GPs call for suspension of routine appointments during coronavirus outbreak

Three quarters of GPs believe routine appointments should be suspended in the event of a widespread coronavirus outbreak - including one in five who say this should happen now, a GPonline poll reveals.

GP consultation (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
GP consultation (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

GPs have also backed a string of measures to ease pressure on general practice as coronavirus spreads - with around half of GPs demanding immediate suspension of QOF, and three in five calling for suspension of online booking of appointments.

Suspension of CQC inspections, a freeze on appraisals, suspension of home visits and a move to telephone-only consultations are among other moves GPs say the NHS should consider during the outbreak.

Findings from the poll of 402 GPs come as 273 people in the UK have tested positive for COVID-19, with three deaths confirmed from the illness as of 8 March.

Routine appointments

Meanwhile, the BMA has argued 'reducing or stopping' routine work would help GPs to prioritise their time to care for those who need their expertise most. It previously said it could call for suspension of parts of the GP contract, including the QOF, if coronavirus cases increase.

NHS England has promised regular updates for GPs on coronavirus and is due to deliver supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to practices across England this week - but has yet to comment on calls to suspend the QOF or appraisals. The CQC, meanwhile, has said it will continue to inspect GP practices despite the coronavirus outbreak, although its position will be reviewed on an 'ongoing basis'.

A total of 19% of GPs responding to the GPonline poll said all routine appointments should be suspended immediately to ease pressure on practices. A further 55% said routine appointments would have to be suspended at some point.

A total of 49% said QOF should be suspended now, and a further 39% said this measure should kick in if the outbreak became more widespread.

GP workload

Commenting on necessary actions in the event of a huge rise in cases, one doctor said: ‘As GPs we are at the frontline in the NHS and are very vulnerable.

‘We need more support - please suspend ALL routine checks and QOF etc and provide us with the proper equipment to deal with this. It's very, very scary for us all and all my colleagues feel the same - we do not feel reassured.'

Another said: ‘There will be a significant increase in demand for appointments and consultations, which will be impossible to fulfil, some patients will not be seen and may be treated over the phone to their detriment, which is what happened during the swine flu outbreak.’

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey, said: 'As the number of cases of COVID-19 increases significantly nationwide in the way it is expected to, it is likely that demand on GP practices will grow.

'GPs will need to be able to prioritise their time to care for those who need their expertise most which will mean reducing or stopping other more routine work. This could include routine work such as QOF and many local enhanced services. It’s vital that practices should not be at financial detriment as a result of prioritising the care of those most in need.'

Ease workload pressures

GPs have taken to Twitter calling for the suspension of QOF to ease pressures on general practice and protect patients.

Full-time GP and Morecambe Bay LMC member Dr Peter Weeks urged NHS England to suspend QOF, arguing it would allow general practice to ‘prepare for what is to come’.

Meanwhile, Nottingham GP Dr Shan Hussain called the suspension of QOF and appraisals as ‘common sense’.

Speaking to GPonline, East London GP Dr Farzana Hussain agreed QOF should be suspended ‘straight away’, explaining that people with long-term conditions by definition were at greater risk of getting coronavirus. ‘Routine bookings are a bit trickier in my view as not every patient knows the difference between an emergency and routine appointment and we would not want to delay cancer diagnosis,’ she said.

Last Friday GPs were told to triage all appointments booked online and to avoid helping patients stockpile medicines during the coronavirus outbreak - as NHS officials confirmed free PPE would be delivered to practices this week.

  • How have you or your practice been affected by coronavirus? Get in touch with GPonline in confidence at gponline@haymarket.com

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