NHS England's top GP defends practices' response to COVID-19

NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani has defended the efforts of GPs during the COVID-19 pandemic - hitting back at claims that practices had shut their doors to patients.

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

In a Twitter post Telegraph commentator Allison Pearson said she had 'heard a rumour that GP surgeries not reopening until March'.

But many GPs were quick to point out that practices had been open throughout the pandemic and had even adapted their ways of working to deliver face-to-face consultations despite the virus.

This included NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani, who labelled Ms Pearson’s tweet ‘unhelpful and unnecessary’.

Practices open

Dr Kanani wrote: ‘General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic. Whilst consultations may have been offered remotely or virtually to keep patients and staff safe, our practices have been open and offering care. Messages like this are unhelpful and unnecessary.’

Hampshire GP Dr Jonathan Rial tweeted to point out the efforts of GPs during the pandemic, writing: ‘I assumed this was a joke...turns out it wasn’t! We have been open the whole time and working harder than ever, whoever has the time to make this stuff up needs to help out a little more.'

Watford GP Dr Simon Hodes said: ‘We are not only open and have been throughout the pandemic, we are also super busy - catching up with chronic disease, coping with telemedicine [and] new working patterns, planning a flu campaign, doing our bread & butter work too’.

In March GP surgeries were advised by NHS England to switch to digital consultations to combat the spread of COVID-19. GPs were quick to set up COVID-19 hot hubs - allowing them to see patients face-to-face who were displaying virus symptoms.

Practices have also come up with novel ways to continue to deliver normal services during the pandemic, including a Newham surgery opening a drive-through childhood immunisations clinic.

Rising GP workload

In recent weeks GPs have reported a significant surge in activity - with workload already outstripping pre-pandemic levels, and the added pressure of an expanded flu campaign to come.

RCGP surveillance data shows that GPs have carried out 2% more consultations and clinical administrative work combined in weeks 29-32 of 2020 - running from 13 July to 9 August - than in the same four-week period of 2019.

Face-to-face consultations in weeks 29-32 are up more than 50% compared with weeks 17-21 of this year, while home visits are up 26%, e-consultations 23% and telephone consultations 12%.

GPs were instructed by NHS England to restore patient activity to pre-pandemic levels at the beginning of August. This includes making rapid progress on childhood immunisation and cervical screening backlogs, and to start work on PCN service specifications.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said earlier this month that it was 'critical that practices are given proper support and resources from NHS England and the DHSC' to cope with increased activity.

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