In a letter to GPs shared via the RCGP, Mr Hancock said GPs and practice teams had been ‘instrumental' in enabling the health service to keep going through the pandemic. He said GPs had delivered around three quarters of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to date, and paid tribute to the profession's ‘incredible efforts’.
The latest government figures show that 20,089,551 people in the UK have now had a first dose, while 796,132 have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. GPs began vaccinating people in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation's cohort 6 last month, leaving three priority groups to go.
Mr Hancock also praised the flexibility shown by GPs in adapting to working during the pandemic, supporting high risk patients and switching to a largely remote service.
He added that the government wanted to take forward ‘positive changes’ made during the pandemic to serve patients in a 'fasting changing world' - and give more leadership roles to GPs in new care systems.
Mr Hancock said in the letter: ‘As we battle through the greatest public health emergency in a generation, you have been instrumental in helping our health system to stand firm, by giving both COVID and non-COVID patients the most dedicated care. I want to thank everyone for this monumental effort, including the hundreds of returners who rejoined the ranks.
‘You are also playing a vital part in delivering the vaccination programme that we know provides the way out of this crisis. Three quarters of COVID-19 vaccine doses were delivered in primary care. The fact we have been able to vaccinate 18m of the UK’s most vulnerable people in just eleven weeks, as well as delivering the biggest flu vaccination campaign ever, is testament to your incredible efforts.’
He added: ‘The success of our vaccination programme has changed the odds in our favour, and you have played a critical role in making this happen.'
Looking forward Mr Hancock said he wanted GPs to have leadership roles in integrated care systems (ICSs), using their ‘expertise and insight’ to help support people to live healthier lives. His comments follow a warning from RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall last month that GPs must retain a strong voice in local health systems amid reforms that will spread ICSs across England.
ICSs are intended to link primary care to wider health and care services in a population health-based approach.
Mr Hancock said: ‘General practice has always been, and always will be, at the forefront of our health and care system. As the vaccination programme gives us hope, we must now look at how we can build back better and shape a system that can better serve people in a fast-changing world. You have a huge part to play in this mission and I want to work with you to make it happen.’
GP surgeries have been going the extra mile to ensure a successful vaccination campaign, with Newham GP Dr Farzana Hussain personally ringing people who have not had their jab to encourage them to take it up. GPs in West Sussex have converted a bus into a mobile vaccination centre to improve uptake among vulnerable and black, asisan and minority etnic patients.