Surgical mask advice for GPs as coronavirus forces practice closures

GPs have been advised to wear surgical masks and other protective equipment if contact with a suspected coronavirus case is unavoidable, after at least 17 temporary practice closures.

Surgical mask advice for GPs (Photo: Science Photo Library/Getty Images)
Surgical mask advice for GPs (Photo: Science Photo Library/Getty Images)

GP practices in Sussex, Bedfordshire, Essex, Somerset, Berkshire, Surrey, Northamptonshire, Lancashire, Hampshire and London have been forced to close temporarily over suspected coronavirus cases within the past fortnight.

Practices have closed their doors for between half a day and two days while tests are carried out and premises are 'deep cleaned'.

GPonline reported this week on a warning from the BMA that if the impact of coronavirus on general practice continued to rise - with doctors potentially forced to self-isolate and premises closed temporarily - suspension of the QOF could become essential to help practices cope.

Coronavirus advice

The BMA has written to NHS England highlighting workload concerns and potential 'procurement problems' for practices around the cost and availability of supplies and equipment.

The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK remained at nine on 20 February - after 5,540 out of a total 5,549 tests carried out came back negative.

In updated guidance for primary care, Public Health England (PHE) said patients with possible coronavirus may continue to present at GP practices because the COVID-19 virus can cause 'mild to moderate illness, in addition to pneumonia or severe acute respiratory infection'.

The guidance spells out how practices should manage suspected cases that present at their premises - and has been updated with advice on protective clothing for doctors or other practice staff who have no choice but to enter a room with a patient who may be infected.

Surgical masks

Any 'unwell patient with a relevant travel history' who books in at a practice reception should be immediately isolated in a room away from other patients and practice staff, the guidance says.

It adds: 'If COVID-19 is considered possible when a consultation is already in progress, withdraw from the room, close the door and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.'

In the event of an emergency that means entering the room is unavoidable, GPs or other staff should 'wear personal protective equipment in line with standard infection control precautions, such as gloves, apron and fluid resistant surgical mask and keep exposure to a minimum', with all equipment then disposed of as clinical waste.

The patient should then be asked to call NHS 111 from their own mobile phone, or if necessary from a practice landline in the room in which they have been isolated.

Isolation

The guidance also explains the procedure practices should follow if a suspected coronavirus case has been on the premises. It says: 'Once a possible case has been transferred from the primary care premises, the room where the patient was placed should not be used, the room door should remain shut, with windows opened and the air conditioning switched off, until it has been cleaned with detergent and disinfectant. Once this process has been completed, the room can be put back in use immediately.'

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'We have written to NHS England about coronavirus emergency planning in primary care, including the possibility of an online booking suspension and procurement challenges including the cost of supplies and equipment.

'We would therefore, encourage all practices to continue to follow current advice from PHE, and for anyone who suspects they might be at risk of having the virus, or has developed symptoms, to call NHS 111.'

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