In a primary care bulletin sent out on 10 September, NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani and director for primary care strategy Ed Waller ‘strongly encouraged’ practices to complete COVID-19 risk assessments for staff.
They advised practices to ‘speak to commissioners where support is needed’, or to ‘discuss available steps to mitigate risks’.
However, the BMA has argued that 'simply encouraging practices is not good enough', warning that some doctors are at risk because surgeries are struggling to complete assessments.
Calls to provide GPs with free access to occupational health services come as BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people continue to experience inadequate protection from COVID-19.
COVID-19 risk assessment
GP practices were given until 22 July to complete risk assessments for all staff at potentially increased risk from COVID-19, including those from BAME groups. NHS England asked practices to begin assessing staff in April.
But GP surgeries in some areas have struggled to complete assessments because some CCGs do not provide funded occupational health services, the BMA has warned.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It’s vital that all practice staff who may be at an increased risk from COVID-19 are given a risk assessment and appropriate action taken to protect and support them. Practices already know how important it is to protect their staff – but they need support doing this.
'Simply encouraging practices is not good enough; NHS England should have done far more to both ensure a fully-funded occupational health service is available for all general practice staff and offer meaningful support to those who after a risk assessment should avoid face-to-face contact with patients.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul told the Guardian that he was 'deeply concerned' about a lack of specific action to protect people in BAME groups against COVID-19 three months after a Public Health England (PHE) review found that this group was disproportionately affected by the virus.
Statistics show that a third of coronavirus patients in intensive care are from BAME backgrounds. Dr Nagpaul said: 'We are continuing to see BAME people suffering disproportionately in terms of intensive care admissions so not acting means that we’re not protecting our vulnerable communities. Action was needed back in July and it’s certainly needed now more than ever.
'As the infection rate rises, there’s no reason to believe that the BAME population will not suffer again because no action has been taken to protect them. They are still at higher risk of serious ill health and dying.'
An NHS England spokesperson said: 'Primary care organisations need to ensure that they have the right occupational health services available to their staff, while general practices have been asked to ensure risk assessments are completed, and if any member of staff believes they are being denied one they should raise this within their organisation and be listened to.'
GPonline analysis also revealed that risk assessments could devastate the GP workforce in certain parts of the country. More than one in three GPs in England are from BAME groups and around a quarter of the full-time equivalent (FTE) workforce is aged over 55, official data show.