Vaccine certificate role for GPs could bury practices in red tape, warns RCGP

Plans to introduce COVID-19 vaccination certificates or passports must have ‘zero impact’ on GP workload, the RCGP has warned.

COVID-19 vaccination (Photo: Evgeniya Matveets/Getty Images)
COVID-19 vaccination (Photo: Evgeniya Matveets/Getty Images)

In evidence submitted to a government review on COVID-19 vaccination certificates, the college warned that involving GPs risked intensifying ‘worryingly high’ workload pressure in primary care.

A role for GPs in administering or issuing vaccination certificates could risk burying practice teams in red tape, and 'diverting valuable time away from patients’, the RCGP said.

The college has warned that if some form of certification goes ahead, GPs must be consulted and the system made ‘easily accessible to everyone’ to avoid widening health inequalities.

Vaccine certificates

Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on 5 April that the government was investigating the idea of using vaccine certificates - although he said they would not come before mid-May.

Meanwhile, the government's latest 'roadmap review' of plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions says 'COVID-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes'.

But the college's consultation response warns against involving GPs, pointing out that the profession is already under intense pressure delivering 75% of all COVID-19 vaccinations and likely to become busier as demand grows in the wake of a pandemic that has now lasted more than a year.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘While the college is not necessarily opposed to the introduction of some sort of opt-in proof of vaccination document to allow for international travel, it must not become the role of GPs and our teams to issue these.

GP workload

‘It would not be sensible for GPs, or any other members of the practice team, to spend their time on cumbersome red tape that will take them away from patient care.

‘Our concern about introducing certification for domestic use is that this risks negatively impacting some patient groups more than others and by doing so widening existing inequalities, including health inequalities, in society.’

He added: ‘At the very least we would want to see a robust and accessible alternative to vaccination status certificates to ensure groups with lower than average vaccine uptake rates are not unduly disadvantaged.’

Professor Marshall added that ideas of incorporating certificates into a digital platform were ‘sensible’ as long as safeguards were introduced to ensure patient data remained secure.

Health inequalities

He called for plans to limit the risk of widening health inequalities. ‘Alternative proof of vaccination must be available for those who don’t have smartphones or are simply less tech-savvy,’ the college chair warned.

In February the RCGP argued that GP teams must be allowed to prioritise vaccination work rather than being taken away from patient care to deal with vaccine passports.

A total of 31,164,176 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in England as of 6 April, including 4,398,311 second-dose vaccinations.

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