GPs will need to innovate to resume routine care safely, NHS England warns

GPs will have to work ‘in different ways’ to restore routine services safely over the coming weeks, NHS England has warned.

NHS England director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani
NHS England director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani

In March practices were told to suspend routine work such as health checks and new patient reviews to allow them to focus on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, however, practices were asked to begin restoring routine and preventative work where possible as part of the second phase response to the coronavirus pandemic set out by NHS England.

NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani told GPs in a webinar on 14 May that they should only restore services where this could be done safely - and that practices should consider remote consultations for patients with long-term conditions, and options such as group video consultations across primary care networks (PCNs).

Remote consultations

Dr Kanani said: ‘We encourage you to [bring back routine work] but only if you can do that safely - and you might need to do that in a different way.

‘So some of your long-term condition management might need to be done remotely, or might need to be done more through your PCN functions. Some people have done group consultations through video.’

She added: ‘It’s really worth thinking about different ways of delivering care but keeping safety as the priority.’

Dr Kanani revealed that general practice could be in a transition phase for ‘months’ but admitted practices were already seeing an increase in workload - adding some surgeries were back at pre-COVID levels or higher.

Routine care

Last month GPs were told to deliver as much routine and preventative work that could be provided safely, such as vaccinations, immunisations and screening, in a letter setting out the second phase of the NHS response to COVID-19.

Practices have also been encouraged to refer patients as normal to secondary care after trusts were told to accept referrals, restore GP access to diagnostic tests and begin to resume urgent and non-urgent procedures not related to coronavirus over the coming weeks. GP leaders have warned that the process has been slow, with many hospitals still not accepting referrals despite rising demand.

GPs were asked last week to review orders of flu vaccine now to prepare for the 2020/21 flu immunisation programme.

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