Freeze QOF and deliver COVID cash or second wave will overwhelm GPs, BMA warns

GP practices will be unable to cope with a second wave of COVID-19 unless urgent measures are put in place to support family doctors and their teams, the BMA has warned.

BMA House (Photo: Malcolm Case-Green)
BMA House (Photo: Malcolm Case-Green)

QOF reporting should be suspended, with funding fully protected, while routine CQC inspections should be paused to ensure practices have the capacity to carry out their contractual duties, the BMA has said.

It has also called on the government to expand the COVID support fund and extend it until March 2021 to ensure teams can manage ongoing care, reconfigure services and deal with the backlog of care created by the first wave of the pandemic.

Occupational health services for all staff and free PPE should be given to practices to help them protect their teams, while equipment to facilitate home working should be made available, GP leaders have insisted.

COVID-19 pandemic

BMA chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that a lack of decisive action now could see services ‘overwhelmed’ by another potential spike in the coming weeks and months. His calls for urgent support follow a record number of daily COVID cases on 29 September - with 7,143 positive tests confirmed across the UK, including 5,651 in England.

Government data shows that GP appointments have risen rapidly in recent weeks as schools returned and people were encouraged to go back to the office.

The total number of GP appointments recorded for the week beginning 7 September was 5,710,511 - a figure 14% higher than any other week since lockdown began in March, and 15% above the average figure for August.

Four out of five GPs said workload levels were above normal due to rising demand for consultations and staff absences in a recent GPonline poll.

Urgent measures

The BMA's proposals are set out in a new paper aimed at ensuring practices can deliver care and protect staff in the event of a second wave during the autumn and winter.

It calls for support to continue digital triage and consultations while ensuring there is always the option of a face-to-face appointment when clinically necessary. Funding for structural changes to practices to allow for social distancing and infection control should also be provided, the paper says.

The BMA has also backed calls for a partial suspension of the incoming service specifications. It says that two of the three specifications due to start in October should be deferred, with enhanced health in care homes continuing.

BMA GP committee England chair Dr Richard Vautrey said GPs and their teams had worked ‘incredibly hard’ at the beginning of the pandemic to reconfigure ways of working and ensure their communities could receive safe care.

COVID cases

‘With the UK recording a record number of daily COVID cases yesterday, GPs, like all doctors, are extremely concerned that without decisive action now services will be overwhelmed if we see another spike in the coming weeks and months.

‘This means giving practices and the profession all they need – whether that’s an occupational health service similar to that already freely available to hospital workers so that staff get the vital risk assessments needed to protect them, or funding to extend surgery buildings to ensure social distancing and infection control measures are maintained, keeping patients and staff safe,’ he said.

Dr Vautrey added it was vital that the government and NHS England took swift action to implement the BMA’s measures to ensure that primary care could ‘continue to operate safely through what looks to be an incredibly difficult winter.’

The BMA warned earlier this month that GPs were missing out on vital COVID risk assessments due to a lack of access to occupational health services. It has also asked the government to show evidence behind its PPE strategy

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