NHS operating procedure for primary care to remain until UK lifts all COVID-19 restrictions

The NHS standard operating procedure (SOP) for primary care will remain in place at least until the government lifts all COVID-19 restrictions, NHS England has said.

Operating procedure plans (Photo: Ollie Millington/Getty Images)
Operating procedure plans (Photo: Ollie Millington/Getty Images)

In a primary care bulletin published on 15 June, NHS England said that as the government's original 21 June date for 'step 4' on the roadmap for lifting COVID-19 restrictions approached, it had been asked repeatedly how long the SOP for primary care - along with SOP documents around management of vaccination sites and other topics - would remain in place.

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on 14 June that the date for step 4 would be pushed back by four weeks amid a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta variant first identified in India. Step 4 represents the stage at which the government would declare that lockdown has been lifted and 'all legal limits on social contact removed'.

NHS England said that in light of the 'changing situation', it would continue to review 'the need for SOPs as well as their content'.

GP guidance

Its latest bulletin said: 'While current SOPs remain as guidance, we want to reassure you all that the SOP approach is still a temporary one - useful during the pandemic to help adapt service delivery, not a permanent fixture.

'We anticipate that step 4 of the roadmap may be the right time to review what, if any, elements of an SOP may need to remain and how we then best signpost people to relevant guidance. This may well differ depending on the extent of ongoing disruption to the usual business model for each professional group.'

The SOP was first published in March 2020 before the UK first went into lockdown - and spelled out advice for general practice on adopting remote consultation technology and limiting face-to-face contacts with patients to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

However, the latest update in May brought a scathing response from the BMA after including advice that GP practices should offer face-to-face appointments to all patients who want them.

GP operating procedure

The BMA called the advice unclear and warned it showed a 'critical lack of understanding of general practice' premises and numbers of patients that could be accommodated safely.

A letter from NHS England a week earlier setting out what was to be included in the latest SOP sparked a vote of no confidence by senior GPs in the NHS leadership and a suspension of all formal meetings between NHS officials and the BMA's GP committee.

In a meeting with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock in the wake of the controversial advice on face-to-face appointments, the BMA called for an end to micromanagement of general practice.

Writing to Mr Hancock ahead of the meeting, the BMA's GP committee executive called for an 'end to directive letters, and instead practices and other GP services must be allowed to deliver patient care in the most appropriate manner, meeting the reasonable needs of their patients and based on their knowledge of their local communities'.

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