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GPs will 'suspend normal services' if swine flu pandemic continues says BMA

By Lilian Anekwe

Practices should still be prepared to suspend some of their core clinical services during this winter's swine flu pandemic, according to new by the BMA and RCGP.

The guidance for GP practices on swine flu preparedness, published today, updates a previous planning document written in anticipation of a more severe, avian flu pandemic.

But despite the falling number of swine flu cases – down 52% to 22,000 last week - and the Health Protection Agency's serological sampling having shown that as many as one in every three children has already had swine flu, GP leaders insist that practices will have to suspend services if the pandemic continues.

The guidance states that: ‘If, as expected, the pandemic continues, we may have to suspend some normal services in order to concentrate on responding to swine flu cases.

‘How and when this will happen is still subject to negotiations, but your practice will be protected so that you will not be penalised when directed to concentrate your efforts on caring for your patients during the pandemic.'

The GPC has negotiated with the DH so that if work ‘that is not essential to clinical demand' is suspending QOF pay will be protected at the level of the preceding year, plus any intervening Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body pay awards.

GPs will also be able to reduce or stop altogether certain key clinical services, including chronic disease management, minor surgery, or new routine referrals, it states.

The service continuity measures were originally drafted for an avian flu pandemic, but Dr Peter Holden, lead GPC negotiator on swine flu, said the measures are still relevant in a swine flu pandemic.

‘It's all still relevant. Every practice should make sure its continuity plans are up to date. We may yet have to invoke some of this if things get nasty.

‘I think everyone including the CMO is sitting with their fingers crossed and thinks we might get away with it, but your never know, and so we have in place the contingency such that if things do step up we can deal with it.'

The guidance also states that 'carers will be added to the group of front line health and social care workers to be prioritised for vaccination' during the second phase, at the same time as GPs move on to vaccinating healthy children aged six months to five years.

Last year just over 200,000 carers were eligible for the seasonal flu vaccine.

Dr Peter Holden

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