GPs not responsible for 'holiday cancellation letters' amid coronavirus outbreak, RCGP warns

Insurers and travel companies have been asking patients to obtain letters from their GP to cancel holidays amid the coronavirus outbreak, in a move condemned by the RCGP.

Departures: GPs asked to provide letter for cancelled holidays (Photo: Stuart Gleave/Getty Images)
Departures: GPs asked to provide letter for cancelled holidays (Photo: Stuart Gleave/Getty Images)

Responding to concerns about companies requesting GP letters for people to cancel holidays, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said it was ‘not a good use’ of GPs’ time to write letters for patients who were not ill but had plans to travel.

The college clarified that insurers and travel companies should seek advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Public Health England before making decisions about holiday refunds.

Professor Marshall added it should not become GPs' responsibility to advise patients about where not to travel.

Coronavirus test

The warning comes as chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty confirmed today two further patients in England had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of UK cases to 15.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced in the House of Commons yesterday that the government had a 'clear four-part plan' to respond to the outbreak of this disease and insisted the government was 'taking all necessary measures' to minimise the risk to the public.

Professor Marshall said: ‘It is not a good use of GPs’ time to be writing letters for patients who are not ill but have plans to travel - and GPs will always base their decisions on official advice.

‘Patients will undoubtedly have good and sensible reasons for not wanting to travel to certain places because of COVID-19, but this is not the same as being unable to travel due to existing illness, and it should not become the GP’s responsibility to give patients advice about where not to travel.’

Primary care role

It was announced yesterday that a network of 100 primary care sites across England would carry out opportunistic testing for coronavirus in patients with respiratory infections as part of an NHS surveillance strategy.

The scheme aims to pick up early evidence if COVID-19 cases begin to spread in England to help the NHS 'prepare for and prevent wider transmission'.

Meanwhile, coronavirus guidance was updated on Tuesday to reflect concerns about patients travelling from areas with growing outbreaks of infection, including northern Italy, Iran and the Republic of Korea.

A total of 14 areas or countries are on the 'category 2' list - meaning patients returning from these locations should self-isolate if they develop symptoms and call NHS 111. The list covers China, Hong Kong, Cambodia, northern Italy, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

GPs have also been advised to wear surgical masks and other protective equipment if contact with a suspected coronavirus case is unavoidable.

As of 27 February, a total of 7,690 people have been tested in the UK, of which 7,675 were confirmed negative.

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