More than one in five GPs have had COVID-19, poll suggests

More than one in five GPs may have had COVID-19, according to a BMA survey that shows doctors are increasingly treating patients for potential long-term symptoms of the virus.

(Photo: Paul Biris/Getty Images)
(Photo: Paul Biris/Getty Images)

Of 1,292 GPs responding to the poll, 7% said they had a diagnosis confirmed by testing, while a further 15% had experienced symptoms they believe were COVID-19 but had not been tested.

The proportion of all doctors who had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 was slightly higher at 26%, with 12% of overall confirmed by test.

The BMA has called on the government and the NHS to do more to protect medical staff as those who were previously shielding return to work.

It has also warned that the NHS will continue to experience pressure in the months ahead with patients and staff experiencing long term-effects of the virus.

COVID-19 infections

The BMA survey also found that a third of 4,120 doctors have seen or treated patients with symptoms they believe are a longer-term effect of the patient having had COVID-19.

Symptoms most commonly reported in doctors and patients included chronic fatigue, reduced exercise capacity, muscle weakness, memory loss, concentration difficulties and loss of sense of smell.

Of 272 GPs who had previously contracted COVID-19 and recovered 19% said they had reduced exercise capacity. Around 17%  said they had chronic fatigue and 10% said they had concentration difficulties.

A recent study by the Health Foundation found that a third of single-handed GPs are at high-risk from COVID-19, and could reduce patients' ability to access face-to-face consultations in some areas.

12 GPs have died from the virus, with all but one of these clinicians in black, asian or minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

Protecting doctors

BMA medical academic staff committee co-chair Dr David Strain said it was unacceptable that medical staff had experienced such high rates of infection.

‘It is imperative that the government and the NHS does more to protect the medical community from infection. We cannot afford more failures of quality and supply in PPE. Risk assessments should be available to all working in the NHS, and appropriate steps should be put in place to mitigate the risk of catching the virus, even in those that have a low risk of a bad outcome from the initial infection,’ he said.

‘Doctors who have been shielding, either due to their own risks or due to the vulnerability of people they care for such as children with complex disease or elderly relatives, and have now been asked to return to work must be presented with evidence of the safety measures that are being put in place to make workplaces COVID-19 safe,’ he added.

Chair of the BMA’s GP committee for England Dr Richard Vautrey warned that the long-term impact of COVID-19 on individuals and health services would be profound.

NHS capacity

He said: ‘With more patients presenting with conditions as the result of infection, it’s essential that sufficient capacity is in place to support and treat them. With the growing backlog of non-COVID treatment, the likelihood of a season flu outbreak, and the possibility of a second wave of infections we need to see a more comprehensive long-term plan to enable doctors to care for their patients this winter and beyond.

‘It’s also essential that the public are kept informed with more clear and consistent information about the risks of infection and how to avoid it, and any further easing of lockdown measures must be informed by the latest transmission rates.’

NHS bosses have recently been warned not to underestimate pressure on GPs as figures show sharp rise in workload as surgeries rreturn to pre-COVID workloads.

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