Choice between telephone or face-to-face GP appointments has been “eroded completely” in Redbridge, according to the boss of the borough’s health watchdog.

Since the pandemic began, many GP surgeries have used a telephone triage system, offering patients a call from a doctor.

But Healthwatch Redbridge chief executive Cathy Turland told the borough's health and wellbeing board on Monday (June 20) that surgery staff are “gatekeeping” face-to-face appointments.

Ms Turland said: “There is a gatekeeping aspect from staff answering phones that you do not get face-to-face - you get telephone appointments first, you are triaged first.

“For a lot of disabled people it is not accessible – deaf people continuously being told ‘this is the only route in that we will allow’.

“From our perspective, patient choice has been eroded completely and that’s what we’re hearing from everyone.”

She added that Healthwatch’s priority is to improve services, not to criticise GPs.

The meeting brought together representatives from local health services, Healthwatch Redbridge and Redbridge Council.

Sarah See, director of primary care transformation at BHR Integrated Care Partnership, said face-to-face consultations now make up 70 per cent of GP surgery appointments.

She added that telephone or ‘e-consult’ appointments, which require internet access, work “for some people” but accepted that there “does need to be a balance”.

Councillor Zulfiqar Hussain said he was “totally baffled” by the claim that 70pc of appointments are face-to-face, following his personal experience at a surgery in Ilford.

He added: “[Sending pictures online] is not possible for the majority of residents where I live, they may not have access to a smartphone and it’s so hard to get through.”

Cllr Sahdia Warraich added: “It seems to have got worse for local residents – it was bad before but seems to be getting worse.

“When people go to their GP practices, it doesn’t look like many people are there, it has deteriorated quite dramatically.

“When is it going to be business back as normal? It doesn’t feel like things are getting back to where they were as such.”