Allow GP practices time to regroup after COVID-19, BMA warns NHS chiefs

NHS England may need to relax or suspend primary care network (PCN) targets to help general practice cope with a backlog of work after the coronavirus pandemic, the BMA has warned.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey urged NHS executives to be ‘flexible in response to what the reality is on the ground’ for GPs over the coming months, suggesting that PCN service specifications may need to be pared back to ease pressure on practices.

Dr Vautrey told GPonline that NHS England had to be ‘mindful’ of a recovery phase that would follow the pandemic as he argued surgeries would need ‘time to regroup’ and refocus on normal activities ‘in a graded way’.

Dr Vautrey added that focusing on activities such as immunisations and caring for patients with long-term conditions would be ‘much more important’ when general practice resumed normal service.

Primary care networks

Start dates for two out of three service specifications being rolled out under the 2020/21 PCN DES - for structured medication reviews (SMRs) and early cancer diagnosis - have been deferred until 1 October.

But a letter from the BMA to NHS leaders on 1 April reveals that the union called for all three specifications - including enhanced health in care homes - to be delayed until April 2021.

The GP committee warning over the need for flexibility comes as LMCs labelled NHS England’s decision to roll out two service specifications in October despite the COVID-19 outbreak as ‘astonishing’ and questioned whether practices should sign up to the PCN DES.

Asked if service specifications could be suspended in the event of a huge backlog of work, Dr Vautrey said: ‘ I think that would be part of the discussions that we would have with NHS England - we've always been clear that we will need to be flexible in response to what the reality is on the ground.

COVID-19

‘I think the concern that everybody has is being prepared for a potential second wave, and trying to avoid that wherever possible. I think it's too early to decide when we will truly get back to business as normal.

‘So that’s not only coping with the current activity, but also being mindful that there will be a recovery phase as well during which practices will need time to regroup and get back to focusing on the normal activities, and then doing that in in a graded way.’

In March PCN clinical directors told GPonline that rules around the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) should be relaxed to allow networks to recruit to the roles they need to respond to the pandemic.

The GPC asked formally for this change in its 1 April letter, but Dr Vautrey said: ‘We wanted it to be relaxed but the problem is that the current situation means we need to be very careful not to destabilise other bits of the health service. If [practices] started to recruit paramedics, that could have a quite destabilising effect on ambulance services, who are clearly working at capacity supporting patients in other ways.'

Last week GPs urged caution over plans to resume core activities as they warned of a backlog of work as practices focus their attention on COVID-19 care.

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