GPs reschedule non-urgent work as COVID-19 surge triggers county-wide red alert

GP practices are being hit by staff absences and struggling to cope with routine work as they are buffeted by the latest COVID-19 wave - with one LMC issuing a county-wide red alert over pressure on general practice.

LMCs in London, Cambridgeshire and Devon have highlighted practices under severe pressure from rising staff absences due to COVID-19 coupled with workload reported by practices that 'far exceeds winter pressures'.

Devon LMC has issued its first ever county-wide red alert, indicating escalating pressure leaving GP services struggling to deliver comprehensive care.

Chief executive Bob Fancy said the LMC's General Practice Alert State (GPAS) report for 8 July was 'one of the most bleak' it had published, with one in three practices across the county under severe pressure and patient demand 'well above pre-pandemic levels'.

GP workload

Data collected by the LMC through its GPAS system - which tracks pressure on local GP services - shows practices dealt with around 195,000 patient contacts in the past week, compared with a total of around 110,500 built into GP contract funding assumptions.

The county-wide red alert comes a week after the LMC's previous report warned that the resilience and sustainability of practices was under ‘serious threat’. 

Meanwhile, in London, a GP practice in Camden reported being down by nearly half of its GPs and is rescheduling routine non-urgent work.

In Cambridgeshire, the LMC's latest Primary Care Alert State (PCAS) report - which also monitors pressure on general practice - highlighted one practice saying COVID-19 cases in staff were ‘the biggest they’ve been in a long time’.

Staff absences

Another practice in the area reported high demand for appointments alongside staff shortages due to sickness absences and annual leave. Problems with nurse staffing were leading to a backlog of care, while the practice's reception team was operating at one quarter of normal capacity.

One Devon practice told the LMC: 'We are in the middle of summer and demand far exceeds winter pressures. All our doctors are on their knees, so many work flow streams, not enough time to deal with patient demand, tasks, lab results, referrals.

'Admin staff are completely demoralised, nurses are battle weary. No time for head space, which results in a lot (actually most) staff being totally stressed out. I am sick to death of reporting we are at breaking point and nothing is being done about it. If primary care is left to break, god help secondary care.'

Another practice warned: 'Yesterday I was the only doctor (I dealt with 87 patients personally not counting tasks/ seeing patients for the nurse etc), two doctors were off sick with COVID-19. My practice manager has COVID-19, my lead admin staff has called in sick, one of my nurses is threatening to leave. I am on my own again on Wednesday and Thursday. I am at breaking point - I am meant to work six sessions but I am working between eight and 10 and now we have been told we have a CQC inspection at the beginning of August when there are no locums to cover me to allow time to prepare.'

Warnings over pressure on general practice come as the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus continued to rise across the country. 

The Office for National Statistics said the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 was equivalent to 3.35% of the population or one in thirty people and attributed the rise to increases in infections compatible with Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

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