NHS under-prepared to deal with coronavirus pandemic, doctors warn

The vast majority of doctors think the NHS is under-prepared for a coronavirus outbreak, with some GPs ‘scared to work’ due to a lack of advice and support from the government, a survey suggests.

(Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images)
(Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images)

Just eight out of 1,618 clinicians responding to a Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) survey said they felt the NHS was prepared to deal with COVID-19.

A total of 40 people have now tested positive for the disease and over 90,000 globally - and prime minister Boris Johnson has said it is 'highly likely that we will see a growing number of UK cases'.

Doctors responding to the poll warned the NHS would struggle to cope with increased demand because of existing understaffing, and highlighted concerns about reports that patients had been inappropriately advised by NHS 111 to attend A&E or GP practices.

Some flagged up concerns over a failure to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS staff. DAUK chair Dr Rinesh Parmar warned that the concerns of the profession could not continue to be ‘brushed under the carpet’.

NHS workload

In written responses to the survey, clinicians questioned whether NHS services would be able to cope with rising workload in the event of a widespread coronavirus outbreak.

One GP said: ‘We have no capacity to deal with an influx of ill patients or concerned patients. The guidance on what to do with suspected or possible cases is not detailed enough at practice level, and NHS 111 or the government are not providing adequate advice about this.

‘If we lose staff due to sickness or isolation then even the current day-to-day work will not be sustainable. We need to remove all non-essential work ie QOF, appraisals.’

Another GP said: ‘I am a GP on the frontline. This morning I have seen seven people with respiratory illnesses. We have not been given any protective equipment. There should be stricter guidelines… I am now scared to work.'

Another said: ‘Zero protection for GPs. Still facing high risk patients. If we go off sick then what?! Risk to us our families and that we may unwittingly spread it to our patients.’

Staff shortages

Dr Parmar added: ‘With nearly 10,000 doctor vacancies and 43,000 nurse vacancies the NHS is already understaffed to deal with demand. A&E waiting times are the worst on record. Intensive care units are at capacity and are even struggling to admit patients who are critically unwell or awaiting cancer surgery.'

DAUK GP lead Dr Yaso Browne added: ‘We have GPs being quoted as feeling "scared" with "zero protection".

‘Community care workers will continue to do their upmost to safeguard the most vulnerable in society. But with 6,000 GP vacancies and the best treatment for COVID-19 being isolation, both healthcare workers and the community need robust plans from the government to contain what is possible.’

The BMA warned last month that suspension of the QOF could become essential to help practices cope with increased pressure. It has also warned against 'complacency' in the NHS coronavirus response, calling for urgent distribution of PPE equipment to practices.

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