Government support for GPs in pandemic 'behind the curve' warns GPC chair

Government support for GPs has been consistently 'behind the curve' as practices stepped up at a time of national crisis through the COVID-19 pandemic, the BMA's GP committee chair has warned.

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

In a speech to the 2020 English LMCs conference on 27 November, Dr Richard Vautrey said GPs across the country responded to the pandemic with 'speed and effectiveness', implementing radical changes to working arrangements within days.

But support from the government for the profession has been 'behind the curve' - with funding, guidance and iniitatives often coming too late, the Leeds GP warned.

The GPC chair hit out at criticism of general practice over access to face-to-face consultations, warning that GPs should be 'commended, not condemned' for protecting patients by switching to total triage and seeing patients face-to-face only when clinically necessary during the pandemic.

GP workload

He acknowledged the 'many dark days' practices have faced amid heavy pressure in recent months - and mourned the loss of GP colleagues who have died during the pandemic. He warned that practices will need the freedom to prioritise workload as they administer a COVID-19 vaccination campaign that could begin from 7 December.

Dr Vautrey said: 'We stepped up at this time of national crisis, we responded with speed and effectiveness but all too often the Westminster government was behind the curve.

'Guidance was delayed, initiatives too limited and funding too little. And after months of lobbying when we did finally secure the essential COVID fund to cover the additional work done by practices it lasted only until 31 July, as if the virus had suddenly left these shores by then.

'How wrong the government was and how apparent is the need now for proper and ongoing support. And so, I’m pleased that after our pressure we have now secured a further £150m to support additional capacity in practices, including paying for more GP time, at this crucial time.'

Dr Vautrey said GP practices have been 'open for business' throughout the pandemic and gone 'well beyond the extra mile for our patients and our communities'.

COVID-19 vaccine

He told LMC delegates: 'Practices have had many dark days in the last few months but despite all the difficulties I’m proud of the way GPs and their teams have responded to this massive challenge. We have shown what GPs can do if there is reduced regulation and we are trusted to lead. We radically changed our working arrangements within days and digital solutions that were planned to be implemented over years were done within weeks.

'When problems arose, such as the scandalous problems with PPE, or lack of funding, or unnecessary bureaucracy, we vigorously addressed them.'

He said that there can be 'no better people' than general practice to take on the 'daunting' task of administering a COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

'Whether we work in local groups or more regional centres, once a safe and effective vaccine is available, our practice teams will work to the best of our considerable ability to protect our patients as quickly as practically possible.

'And while we may have super-powers we cannot be in two places at once and so we will need the help of everyone, we’ll need to be able to prioritise the rest of our workload and crucially we’ll need the understanding of our patients in doing so. We will need all hands to the pump.'

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