The BMA has highlighted urgent measures the government must take to ensure general practice is ‘protected and supported’ through the growing second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for extra funding and warning that compensation to date has been too limited and short-lived.
Cases of COVID-19 have increased sharply, with around 22,000 people per day testing positive on average over the past week in the UK. Practices in areas hit hardest have warned they are struggling to deal with workload pressures exacerbated by increasing staff absences.
Reacting to comments from a fellow GP on Twitter, BMA GP committee executive team member Dr Krishna Kasaraneni accused the government of 'behaving as if the second wave is an unexpected surprise'.
GPs under pressure
He told GPonline that practices in the north of England and across the country were ‘once again coming under intense pressure’. He added: ‘Nobody should doubt the commitment of GPs to serve their communities, but to do this effectively in a time of crisis they need more support from government and the NHS leadership – and for this support to be delivered without further delay.'
Chair of Mersey Faculty RCGP and St Helens GP Professor Steve Cox warned last week that practices in his area were already ‘drowning’ under pressure in the second wave - questioning why GPs had not received extra support.
He said on social media: ‘I’m working in a tier 3 area. The second wave is here. Practices are drowning and the hospitals are full. We have no additional funding to deliver the same COVID specific services as wave one. The fact our CCG is in deficit shouldn’t stop pandemic funding.’
North Staffordshire LMC secretary and Stoke GP Dr Chandra Kanneganti told GPonline that COVID-19 was driving up pressure for practices in his patch, warning that funding to cover staff absences was vital.
‘My city, Stoke-on-Trent, went into tier 2 on Saturday, and cases are going up quite dramatically,' he said. 'We have a significant number of staff who must follow the rules and self-isolate if they get symptoms.
‘Unlike hospitals, who can get cover, general practices are small businesses - even if we have two or three staff members off sick, it creates huge pressure on the other staff to provide a safe service.'
BMA polling shows more than three in five GPs say they or clinical colleagues have been forced to self-isolate within the past fortnight. A total of 81% of GPs say workload at their practice is currently above normal levels, according to a recent GPonline poll.
Dr Kanneganti said areas with high numbers of black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) GPs could come under extra pressure if doctors were deemed at high risk and unable to see patients face-to-face.
The BMA has called for the COVID support fund to be expanded, and extended until March 2021. The scheme reimburses practices for expenses such as staff absences and consumables, but ended at the end of July.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘General practice has remained accessible to patients throughout the pandemic, balancing keeping both staff and patients safe, and this vital role will continue.
‘The COVID-19 support fund for general practice assists with the additional costs of the response, and GPs in England are eligible to order Covid-19 PPE free of charge. Further funding has been made available to support the delivery of the expanded flu programme and we have also provided over 22,000 laptops for the roll out of online and video consultations.’