Viewpoint: Why I'm returning to the GP frontline to fight COVID-19

A year ago, New Forest GP Dr Nigel Watson took one of the toughest decisions of his life and stepped back from clinical practice after more than 30 years in general practice. He explains why he and others will be returning to the frontline in the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr Nigel Watson (Photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Nigel Watson (Photo: Pete Hill)

I have been a GP working in the New Forest for over 30 years. About 12 months ago I took the decision to stop clinical practice, this was one of the most difficult decisions that I have ever had to make.

It took me six months to come to that decision. The fact was I enjoyed being a GP, I worked in a great practice, with fantastic partners and staff and I also liked the patients.

The reason for stopping was I felt there were gaps appearing in my knowledge and I did not want to become a dangerous GP.

Workload

I worked two days a week in my practice, two clinical sessions and one session as the managing partner. I also worked three days a week as the chief executive of a large LMC and therefore as life has got busier, I have had less and less time to keep up to date with clinical developments.

Many other GPs have told me that they loved being a GP but were retiring because of the bureaucracy, unmanageable workload and the issue of pensions. For most it was not the clinical aspects of our profession, it was other factors.

We are now facing a national emergency with the rapidly escalating situation cause by COVID-19. I and many other recently retired GPs are willing and ready to return to work to help out local practices.

I have been contacted in my role in the LMC by a number of GPs who are willing to return to work as a frontline GP. That may not be in dealing with the complexities of normal general practice because they will not have the up-to-date knowledge that the expert specialist generalists we call GPs have, but they could help by focusing on areas where they could make a difference.

Prescribing

This could range from help with prescribing, blood results, to selective remote triage, to some face-to-face work depending on an individual’s skill set.

We cannot let general practice become overwhelmed – we must help. However, there are practical issues that need to be addressed.

We need to be clear and have a rapid process for getting on the GMC register and performers list. These returning GPs are needed now. The GMC has said it is writing to 15,000 doctors who could be automatically re-registered.

The state-backed clinical negligence scheme for general practice (CNSGP) will cover these GPs and all MDOs have agreed to provide cover for free, and restrictions that mean some GPs who have taken retirement and returned to work are limited to 16 hours a week have been lifted.

Self-isolation may mean remote working and practices have moved swiftly to total triage and video consultations, but some GPs will become ill and as the demand increases, we will need to expand capacity in general practice.

Practices need to be supported financially to cover the potential sickness absence but also to expand their workforce for the duration of the crisis. GPs who work less than full time may also be willing to increase the sessions they work during this crisis.

This is a difficult time for all and we will get through it, but only if we pull together and that is as important for our great profession of general practice as it is for our patients, communities and population.

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