Half of GPs fear their practice will struggle to cope with patient demand this winter

Just over half of GPs are not confident that their practice will be able to maintain routine care in the face of a surge of COVID-19 cases this winter, according to a BMA poll.

The poll of over 2,000 GPs from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland found that 16% were 'not at all confident' that their practice would be able to manage demand from non-COVID patients this winter and a further 36% were 'not very confident'.

Some 41% said they were 'somewhat confident' that their practice would cope and just 6% were 'very confident'.

Meanwhile, 41% of the GPs said they were 'not at all confident' or 'not very confident' that their practice would be able to cope with demand from patients with coronavirus symptoms this winter.

More than half of the GPs taking part in the opinion poll reported seeing a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, with more than a third saying current levels were higher than during the same point during the first wave of the pandemic.

At the weekend the government confirmed that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus was behind the surge in infections seen in the south east of England. The Welsh government has also said that the new strain of the virus has been found in all parts of the country.

Strained services

GPs responding to the BMA poll also reported rising levels of demand from patients without symptoms of COVID-19. Some 84% said that levels of demand for routine patient care had increase over the past two weeks. From the total number of respondents 43% said that their workload was considerably higher than it was before the pandemic.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that the poll showed that doctors were fearful of what they could face in the coming weeks. He warned that there may not be sufficient capacity to provide care for everyone who needs it if infections continue to rise over the Christmas period and backed tougher restrictions introduced by the government.

Over three quarters of GPs who responded the poll said that they thought people should not visit the clinically vulnerable over the Christmas period if possible. Meanwhile 83% thought that people should mix with the absolute minimum number of family members.

Social distancing measures

Dr Nagpaul said: 'Whether it’s COVID or cancer, we are extremely worried that there may not be the capacity in our health service to provide care for everyone who needs it if the infection rates continue to soar. Our NHS and its staff are already at the point of collapse. These tougher measures are necessary to give the health service a fighting chance to cope with the incredible demand it is experiencing and will likely continue to.

'Doctors are telling us they’re already seeing significant increases in the number of COVID and non-COVID patients, and that they don’t believe their hospitals or practices will be able to cope in the new year. The NHS provides care for us all, when we most need it. If it doesn’t cope, the consequences impact on each and every one of us; real people will suffer.

'We all wanted to have some semblance of Christmas this year but given these latest developments, particularly with the emergence of this new faster spreading strain, the best thing we can do now is stay at home to protect ourselves and our loved ones this year.'

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