GP surgeries doing appointments by phone to prevent spread of coronavirus

GP surgeries are halting in-person appointments in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Patients at some medical practices have been told that telephone consultations will be carried out instead from Monday.

Practices have posted notices on their websites and social media accounts to inform patients of changes to appointments, which come as the Government moves into the "delay" phase in its fight against the killer bug

A woman in her 70s, who had underlying health conditions and was admitted to Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, became the first person in the UK to die after testing positive for the flu-like illness, with at least 116 cases detected so far.

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Blithehale Health Centre in Bethnal Green, in east London, wrote on its website: "Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) starting Monday 9th March 2020 all patient appointments have been changed to telephone consultations excluding blood tests.

"If you have an appointment booked please do not attend the surgery. The Doctor will call you at your appointment time and conduct a telephone consultation."

A doctor at Strachur Medical Practice in Scotland wrote on Twitter: "SMP has switched to telephone appointments only. 

"If you are unwell or have a chronic illness do NOT attend the surgery without calling first. 

"The doctor or nurse will then arrange the best way for patients to be examined. This will limit the risk to patients. #Covid_19."

Several other surgeries told patients they were introducing a telephone triage system to prevent coronavirus carriers from visiting.

Lowther Medical Centre, in Whitehaven, Cumbria, tweeted that it had suspended online appointments "on the advice of NHS England regarding the Coronavirus outbreak".

It told patients that "reception will need to follow protocol in booking appointments and will have a series of questions to ask before they can book an appointment".

Willow Tree Family Doctors, in Kingsbury, north-west London, wrote on Twitter: "The practice has taken the precaution to switch to a Total Telephone Triage System for your safety.

"This means you will be required to speak to a clinician before booking an appointment and/or attending the practice."

Boris Johnson was updated on the coronavirus outbreak in a call on Friday with Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, Downing Street has said.

A No 10 spokesman said: "We are still in the containment phase. As the CMO said, it is now highly likely that the infection will spread in a significant way.

"Officials will therefore accelerate work on the delay phase of the Government's plan."

The spokesman said Mr Johnson will chair a meeting of the Government's Cobra civil contingencies committee on the issue on Monday.

On Thursday, Professor Whitty told MPs the UK was beginning to move into the "delay" phase.

Earlier, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK's chief scientific adviser, told Sky News that the Government is "looking at" forcing entire households to isolate during the outbreak as part of "more extreme" precautions.

He said the new strain of coronavirus is a "global epidemic" with a "higher death rate than flu", says the UK's.

However, most people who catch the bug will suffer a "mild illness", he added.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC's Question Time that anyone self-isolating with coronavirus should stay away from their own family members as much as possible, and to wipe down shared surfaces such as in bathrooms.

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