GP capacity hit hard as 60% lost colleagues to self-isolation in past fortnight

More than three in five GPs say they or clinical colleagues have been forced to self-isolate within the past fortnight, with many reporting reduced capacity and cancelled appointments at a time when workload is soaring.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul: winter warning
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul: winter warning

A total of 62% of GPs reported that they or a clinical colleague in their practice had been forced to self-isolate within the past two weeks - with 39% of all respondents reporting a 'moderate' or significant' impact on patient care, a BMA poll of nearly 2,700 GPs revealed.

More than one in 10 GPs said they personally had been forced to self isolate within the past two weeks due to colleagues or family and friends testing positive for COVID-19.

The pressure on general practice as a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic continues to build in the UK is taking its toll on GPs, the poll reveals - with three quarters of GPs feeling anxious about what they will face this winter and two thirds saying their 'current level of fatigue or exhaustion' is already above normal.

Staff shortages

Just over 1% of GPs responding to the poll said they were currently self-isolating because they personally had tested positive for coronavirus - and 12% reported having previously contracted the virus. A total of 3% said they were experiencing 'long covid' - symptoms linked to COVID-19 several weeks after an initial infection.

Just over half of GPs who responded to a question about the impact of self-isolation on their practice said clinical staff absences had reduced the number of patients who could be seen and a similar proportion said appointments had been cancelled. A total of 70% of respondents to this question reported working overtime to cover absences, with many also reporting bringing in locums, cancelling leave or dropping other activities such as research.

More than half of GPs said the shift to remote consultations during the pandemic had increased the length of consultations as well as the overall number of consultations - and that this shift had left them more tired and working longer days. Almost half reported a rise in paperwork linked to the move to remote care.

BMA leaders are warning that the NHS will struggle to cope with mounting pressure through winter - and have argued that a 'national and strategic approach' is needed urgently to limit the spread of the pandemic. A total of 21,628 positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported on average per day over the past week - and Office for National Statistics estimates suggest the true daily figure for new infections in the week to 16 October was more than 35,000.

NHS winter pressure

Two thirds of doctors across all specialties polled by the BMA said they were not confident that their local healthcare system would cope through winter.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Doctors know that this winter is likely be one of the most difficult times of their careers. They are extremely worried about the ability of the NHS to cope and their ability to care for the needs of their patients.

'These survey findings show the enormous scale of the challenges for the NHS in the coming months – and they reinforce the BMA’s call for a national and strategic approach to getting this virus under control.

'More than four in 10 doctors say that they are seeing more COVID patients than they did during the first wave. Meanwhile there remains a backlog of millions of patients not receiving treatment during the first peak, and with only 15% of doctors reporting that they have started to tackle the backlog, millions are still left waiting to be seen.

'Doctors are doing their best to keep patients safe, with seven in 10 saying they are providing remote consultations to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals and GP practices. But with this work often taking longer and proving more tiring, it’s clear that over-work and under-capacity is taking its toll on the NHS, its workforce and its patients.'

GPonline reported earlier this month that face-to-face GP consultations rose more than 50% between the final week of August and the week beginning 28 September - while telephone consultations remain at their highest level since the start of the pandemic.

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