Demand at GP surgeries in Herefordshire and Worcestershire jumped in June, figures show, although activity was still below pre-coronavirus levels.

But with doctors across England continuing to rely on remote appointments far more than before the pandemic, the Patients Association warned they should not become "the new normal” without assessing the benefits to patients.

NHS Digital data shows patients booked 293,592 appointments with practices in the NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCG area in June – 31% more than in May.

This was still 18% fewer than the previous June, although demand in May was down 44% year-on-year.

Across England as a whole, 20.6 million appointments were made in June – 4.3 million more than in May.

It means appointments in June were 11% lower compared to a year ago, while in May they had been down by 33%.

The NHS cautions that changes in how practices operate during the pandemic may have affected the figures, with remote consultations underreported.

In a recent speech to the Royal College of Physicians, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said increasing use of remote consultations had been “hugely positive”, and called for all sessions to be done remotely unless there is a "compelling clinical reason not to”.

But chief executive of the Patients Association Rachel Power said the Secretary of State should publish evidence showing this works for patients.

She added: “Patients have put up with a great deal over recent months to help the NHS cope with an unprecedented emergency – often at considerable cost to their own health and wellbeing.

"Phone, online or other types of virtual appointments cannot be allowed to become the new normal without an assessment of the benefits to patients."

In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, 60% of sessions were completed over the phone in June, up from just 21% a year ago.

Nationally, 48% were conducted over the phone, compared to 13% last year.

The Royal College of GPs says demand at GP surgeries could surpass pre-crisis levels nationally as people feel more confident accessing services.

Chairman Martin Marshall said: “As normal services begin to resume, general practice will be at the forefront of dealing with the health consequences of the pandemic, as well as continuing to deliver routine GP services and an expanded flu vaccination programme and prepare for a potential second wave of Covid-19.

"It is essential that GPs and their teams have the necessary guidance, resources, and workforce capacity to manage these new challenges and continue to deliver good-quality care to patients.”

A recent survey of RCGP members found 70% of respondents thought telephone consultations increase efficiency.

Prof Marshall added: "However, many patients – and GPs – prefer face-to-face consultations, particularly for patients with complex health needs. We need to strike a balance and be able to offer patients a range of access options to GP services to suit their needs and preferences."

An NHS spokesman said: “GPs have had to adjust the way they work to protect people from the risk of the virus – remote consultations offer a convenient, safe option for patients to access care in addition to face-to-face appointments."