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GPC criticises ‘foolish’ lack of GP pandemic planning

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: The GPC has criticised thousands of GP practices as ‘foolish' for failing to draw up pandemic flu plans and urged them to buddy up now to avoid loss of income in the event the outbreak worsens.

A Pulse survey of more than 200 GPs found widespread confusion at practices caught unawares by last week's swine flu outbreak, with just 23% saying they were ‘sufficiently prepared' for a flu pandemic.

A third of practices did not have a pandemic flu plan and 60% had no arrangements to buddy up with neighbours.

A chaotic picture also emerged at many primary care organisations and local Health Protection Units, many of which were still scrambling to get supplies of facemasks, gloves and swabs to GPs days after the outbreak began.

Half of GPs surveyed said they were struggling to access swabs, facemasks and where necessary antivirals, while PCOs themselves reported huge variations in pandemic planning and resources in different parts of the country.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator and pandemic flu lead, admitted PCOs' implementation of pandemic flu guidance had been ‘patchy', but said GPs should also take their share of responsibility.

He warned there was ‘no excuse' for GPs not being prepared four months after the RCGP and BMA launched joint pandemic flu guidance.

‘I'm really angry at GPs saying they haven't done this – there's no excuse for not having a plan in place,' Dr Holden said.

‘The GMC may need to look into practices that have not taken reasonable steps to ensure patients get the care they need.'

Our survey also raised concerns that GPs lacked the facilities to control a swine flu outbreak, with 45% saying they had no means of separating suspected flu cases from other patients attending the surgery.

The findings came as GP surgeries saw a surge in patients attending due to the outbreak, with some seeing several worried patients every day.

PCTs varied hugely in their response to the outbreak.

In Birmingham and Sefton, GPs were told they must buy their own protective clothing. In Derbyshire, PCT managers said only ‘very small numbers' of facemasks would be given out ahead of a full pandemic, whereas NHS Bury has already sent 48 facemasks to each practice.

A string of GPs complained at lack of clear guidance.

Dr Holden said: ‘People say "there's no guidance" but it's been in place for four months. A practice that has not put plans in place is foolish. If they want to protect their income in a pandemic they will have to collaborate, simple as that.'

But Dr Andrew Mimnagh, Sefton LMC chair, said national guidance had promised masks would be supplied centrally: ‘I am sure this has led practices to refrain from stocking up.'

Swine flu: many practices were not ready Swine flu: many practices were not ready

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