Practice with 20,000 patients in two-week shutdown as UK coronavirus cases spike

A 20,000-patient GP practice in Devon is thought to be the first to shut down for an extended period of time due to the coronavirus outbreak - as the number of confirmed UK COVID-19 cases leapt to 85.

Practice closed (Photo: Karl Tapales/Getty Images)
Practice closed (Photo: Karl Tapales/Getty Images)

Chelston Hall Surgery, in Torquay, which has seven GPs and 19,891 registered patients across two sites, has closed down until 'at least 16 March 2020 to help to contain the current outbreak of coronavirus', according to a message on its website.

Commenting on the closure, NHS England and Improvement told GPonline: 'The practice has closed today after two further positive cases of coronavirus were confirmed among staff, meaning that all staff have been advised by Public Health England to self-isolate for 14 days.'

More than two dozen GP practices across the UK have been forced to close temporarily within the past two or three weeks for emergency cleaning after contact with patients with suspected coronavirus infection. In most cases, closures have lasted no more than half a day.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that it was 'highly likely' the UK would see rising cases of COVID-19 infection as the government launched an action plan to tackle the growing outbreak.

Coronavirus

On 4 March the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK surged to 85 - up from 51 the day before - with almost 17,000 tests carried out within recent weeks.

GP leaders have warned that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to have a significant impact on GP practices' ability to deliver services as normal - particularly if rising numbers of doctors are forced to self-isolate after contact with patients who may be infected.

The BMA has said the QOF may need to be suspended to ease pressure on practices - with the 31 March deadline for entering achievement data into practice systems fast approaching. Where QOF has been suspended in the past, practices have been paid in line with the previous year's QOF achievement figures.

One practice in Brighton has already been forced to suspend non-urgent appointments temporarily because of a staff shortage triggered by a doctor being placed in isolation last month. The UK action plan launched on 3 March suggested that non-urgent NHS work could be cancelled more widely as the outbreak continues.

Workload

BMA emergency preparedness lead Dr Peter Holden told GPonline that in parts of the UK where general practice was already 'on its knees', practices would struggle to maintain routine services with even a small reduction in available staff.

The fully-qualified,  full-time equivalent (FTE) GP workforce in England fell by 277 in the year to December 2019, according to the latest figures from NHS Digital, while numbers of FTE partners dropped by almost 1,000.

Dr Holden said: 'As the number of cases takes off, practices will have to restrict services and the public will have to accept that things will be done adequately but it will not be Rolls Royce. We have to stop unnecesary work.'

During the 2010 swine flu pandemic, Dr Holden said practices set up 'buddying arrangements' to help maintain services. He said practices needed to keep calm and 'concentrate on what we can deal with, and mitigate what we can't'.

He said larger practices were not necessarily more likely to be able to cope with doctors being off work due to isolation, because GPs within a practice were likely to be in relatively close contact at meetings or eating together.

BMA leaders have warned against complacency in the UK's response to coronavirus, calling on NHS England to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to practices across the country after GPs reported shortages.

A statement from Chelston Hall Surgery said its closure was 'a precautionary measure to protect patients and staff' and that it was working with Public Health England and NHS officials to put 'alternative arrangements for patient appointments and other services'.

  • How have you or your practice been affected by coronavirus? Get in touch with GPonline in confidence at gponline@haymarket.com

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