On 14 September, the government unveiled details of a COVID-19 booster campaign, which aims to offer a third jab to all over-50s, health and social care staff and patients in at-risk groups.
Booster injections are set to start from next week and are part of a larger strategy for managing the pandemic through autumn and winter. The government has said that NHS England will outline further details on booster vaccine deployment ‘shortly’.
But the BMA has called on NHS officials to suspend QOF work immediately in expectation of ‘significant pressures’ on general practice - and warned that PCNs are ‘not the panacea for all primary care ills’.
It comes as the union labelled the government 'out of touch' with frontline GP services after health secretary Sajid Javid yesterday urged practices to 'operate in the way they did before the pandemic'.
A BMA spokesperson said: ‘The BMA pressed for rapid and significant actions to address the current situation, including an immediate suspension of QOF with income protection, not least with the ongoing blood bottle shortage but also in expectation of significant pressures with rising COVID-19 cases in the coming winter.
'[The union also needs] support for practices against complaints, renewed efforts to recruit and retain GPs, and an emphasis on practices rather than PCNs, highlighting the professions strength of feeling that PCNs are not the panacea for all primary care ills and cannot be the only avenue for services and funding for general practice.'
Last month, GP leaders called for NHS England to provide QOF income protection for GP practices if they were financially impacted by the blood test tube shortage. But health leaders said in June that they had no plans to suspend the QOF in 2021/22 or offer income protection.
The BMA has warned of an ‘incredibly challenging winter’ this year, with the NHS expecting a spike in coronavirus cases, an ‘onslaught of flu’ and large backlogs of care. GP surgeries have also been tasked with delivering both COVID and flu vaccinations.
A union spokesperson suggested the government had to be realistic with its expectation of primary care services: 'Winter is always a difficult time for the NHS, and this year we have COVID-19 as well as flu to deal with, which can put immense pressure on our services.
'We made it clear that PCNs were established to build on and support their member practices as a response to rising workload, so we must develop, support and fund practices as the foundations for not only their networks but the rest of the NHS.
'GPs and their teams need so much more support and resources, such as sufficient premises and adequate staffing levels, from this government to be able to give patients the care they need.'
QOF was suspended throughout 2020/21, with income from the framework protected, to allow practices to concentrate on dealing with the pandemic and then delivering the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Earlier this week doctors called for more funding, suspension of unnecessary bureaucracy and targets, and for GPs to control how they return to 'business as usual' as the NHS works to recover from COVID-19.