Practices 'need substantial support' to step up Omicron response, warns BMA GP chair

General practice is already facing unsustainable pressure and will need 'substantial support' to step up in response to the Omicron variant, the BMA's GP committee chair has warned.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel (Photo: BMA)

GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel has written to NHS England asking for an urgent meeting to discuss how practice teams 'can be supported in the coming weeks and months'.

Speaking after the letter was sent, the Camden GP said practice teams would 'step up' in the face of new challenges posed by the Omicron variant - but warned that an exhausted and demoralised general practice workforce would need help from government and NHS officials to do so.

GPs have called for measures such as the suspension of QOF to reduce bureaucracy for primary care so that the profession can focus on patients in a winter already expected to be extremely challenging.

COVID-19 vaccination

Dr Jameel's comments came as health and social care secretary Sajid Javid set out plans for a major expansion of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) called for booster jabs to be offered to all over 18s and cut the required time between a second dose and a booster from six to three months.

Announcing the plans, Mr Javid said the move - which comes alongside an expansion of the vaccination offer for younger age groups - would 'almost double' the number of people eligible for booster jabs. He told MPs: 'It represents a huge step up for our vaccination programme. And I know that we’re asking more from NHS colleagues who’ve already given so much throughout this crisis. But I know that they will be up to the task.'

The plans will represent a major workload challenge for general practice, which has delivered around three quarters of the 97m doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in England to date - at a time when the profession is already delivering more than 30m appointments a month, with the average GP in England now caring for an extra 300 patients on average compared with 2015.

Dr Jameel said: 'I have written to NHS England and Improvement to offer the full support and force of general practice in the face of an evolving threat to the nation.

GP workforce

'GPs and their teams, alongside all healthcare workers, will be extremely concerned to learn about the arrival of a new, more transmissible variant of COVID-19 in the UK and the potential impact it may have on the public at a time when health services are already under unsustainable pressure.

'The workforce will understandably be turning to how they can look after and care for patients who need them most while also protecting staff’s safety. 

'General practice will, as it has done throughout the pandemic, step up to prioritise their patients in the face of new challenges, but GP teams, many of whom are exhausted and demoralised 20 months into the pandemic, will in turn need substantial support.

'I have asked to meet with NHS England, on behalf of GPs, to explore how doctors and their teams can be supported in the coming weeks and months.'

Dr Jameel's comments came just days after her first speech as BMA GP committee chair for England at the England LMCs conference - in which she appealed to the government to work with the profession, but revealed results from an indicative ballot showing that GPs are ready to take industrial action to push back if necessary.

A senior primary care academic welcomed the wider rollout of booster vaccination, but called the government's handling of the announcement 'very disrespectful' because the 'NHS staff who will be delivering it' had not been informed first.

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