Omicron forced a fifth of GPs to self-isolate in two-week period that battered NHS

One in five GPs were forced to self-isolate because of COVID-19 in the two weeks after Christmas and two thirds say absences undermined patient care, according to polling that reveals the depth of the impact of Omicron on general practice.

Positive lateral flow test
Positive lateral flow test (Photo: Manuta/Getty Images)

Frontline GPs warned early this year that the general practice workforce had been 'shredded' by staff absences related to COVID-19.

BMA polling published on 8 January showed that across all medical specialties Omicron had forced huge numbers into self isolation, often unable to access tests, with many warning patient care had been adversely affected.

A breakdown of responses to the poll from 2,228 GPs shared with GPonline shows that a fifth personally had to self-isolate because of COVID-19 in the two weeks after Christmas.

COVID-19 absences

More than two thirds of GPs who responded to the poll reported colleagues off sick with COVID-19 - with 31% of respondents saying absences had a significant impact on patient care and a further 37% reporting a moderate impact.

Two thirds of GP respondents reported increased delays to elective or non-urgent medical care, investigations, procedures and treatments.

Meanwhile, more than eight in 10 GPs said they were very or extremely concerned about the impact of Omicron on staffing in their practice, on the NHS's ability to reduce the backlog of care that has built up in the pandemic, and on the capacity of the health service to deliver urgent and acute care to non-COVID-19 patients.

The findings come amid widespread reports that the government plans to lift the current 'Plan B' COVID-19 restrictions in place across England from 26 January.

Plan B measures

COVID-19 cases have come down from a peak that exceeded 200,000 daily confirmed cases early this year but remain at extremely high levels, with 94,432 cases reported on 18 January - up from the previous two days and higher than any figure reported prior to 21 December last year.

Meanwhile, close to 20,000 patients with COVID-19 are in hospitals across the UK - more than double the number on Christmas Day - although numbers requiring mechanical ventilation have remained steady.

The BMA warned this week that 'hospitals simply do not have the capacity to cope' - pointing to performance against the four-hour A&E waiting target that had been the 'worst recorded since it was introduced' in recent months.

Recent reports from MPs have highlighted the knock-on impact on general practice of chronic problems with delayed care in hospitals, with long waits for hospital treatment fuelling a rise in demand for GP appointments.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said Omicron was 'battering our health service, forcing staff off sick, resulting in untold suffering for patients as a result'. The north London GP has urged the government to do more to support general practice and other parts of the health services to cope with increased pressure.

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