Three in four GP partners fear for staff safety as practice workload floods back

Almost three quarters of GP partners are concerned about how to keep colleagues safe as numbers of patients attending practices return to pre-pandemic levels - with access to PPE a major worry, a GPonline poll has found.

PPE is a major concern for GP partners (Photo: Neil Hall/Getty Images)
PPE is a major concern for GP partners (Photo: Neil Hall/Getty Images)

Half of the 185 GP partners responding to the poll said that they were either 'very worried' or 'slightly worried' about the government's ability to supply the PPE that GPs and practice staff needed to keep them as safe as possible through the rest of the pandemic.

Only 9% said they were 'very confident' that the government would be able to supply adequate PPE, with a further 20% saying they were 'slightly confident'.

Some 73% of GP partners said that they were concerned about how to ensure the safety of practice staff as the number of patients attending the surgery begins to rise.

One GP partner responding to the poll said: 'We only received one delivery of centrally-provided PPE, they said it was 200 sets but there were only 200 gloves. No more has appeared and when we contact the helpline they say "order through your usual supplier". We are now paying £45 per box of fluid-resistant masks, which usually cost £20, hoping to claim back from Covid fund eventually, but what does this do meanwhile to our cashflow?'

Another added: 'We are always running out of PPE and relying on donations.'

PPE shortages

Earlier in the pandemic many practices found that the number of patients contacting the surgery had fallen as a result of reluctance to contact the NHS. Meanwhile, the suspension of much routine work and an increase in the number of appointments conducted by phone or video also saw the number of patients attending surgeries for face-to-face appointments dramatically drop.

However, GPs have reported a big upturn in patient numbers in recent weeks.

In response to GPonline's poll 56% of GP partners said that there had been a 'significant' increase in the number of patients contacting the surgery in the past two weeks, with a further 29% saying there had been a slight increase. Some 24% had seen a significant increase in the number of patients attending the surgery, with an additional 48% seeing a slight increase.

Patient numbers are likely to increase further in the coming weeks as many practices move to restart more routine work, leaving partners concerned about how to best protect staff.

Alongside PPE, implementing safe social distancing in small practice buildings that were already struggling for space was also identified as a key concern among partners. Meanwhile others said they were worried that the government had eased the lockdown too soon.

GPs responding to the poll also raised concerns about the long-term impact on workloads. One said: 'All face-to-face work in the future will take longer – PPE will have to be donned and doffed, equipment has to be cleaned, patients not crowded in the waiting room. So it will all be more expensive and less "efficient".'

Keeping staff safe is a 'challenge'

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said keeping staff safe was 'a challenge for everyone in the NHS'.

He told GPonline: 'Even months now into this crisis the government still hasn’t sorted out PPE in a way that means people have absolute confidence that they will have enough to meet their needs, and the growing needs of practices as they will need to be seeing more patients face-to-face for important procedures that can’t be done remotely.

'That will require reliable sources of PPE coming through to them. So it is vital that both national and international supply chains continue to be looked at and made as robust as possible.'

GP practices have struggled with access to PPE during the pandemic. A BMA poll in early May found that more than two-thirds of GPs had to rely on PPE that they have bought themselves or had donated. Around one in six GPs (16%) said that they 'rarely' or 'never' had sufficient PPE for safe contact with patients.

Last month the DHSC launched a new PPE portal in partnership with eBay. The portal will enable practices to order PPE supplies from NHS Supply Chain if they are unavailable from their usual suppliers.

On Friday the government announced that from 15 June in England all NHS staff in hospitals, visitors and outpatients will be expected to wear face masks or coverings.

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