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Swine flu crisis as GP leaders call for Government to suspend the QOF

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: The QOF and other routine practice work should be suspended immediately in four of the UK's largest cities to allow GPs to focus on combating the developing swine flu outbreak, the BMA said today.

Pulse understands GPC and RCGP leaders have repeatedly pressed the Department of Health to declare UK alert level 3 in recent days as the number of swine flu cases rises sharply. Declaring alert level 3 would allow SHAs to take local decisions on whether to suspend QOF and other routine work such as appraisals and non-essential clinics.

Today saw the biggest jump in cases in England since the outbreak began. According to the latest Health Protection Agency figures, 224 further patients have been confirmed to have the virus through laboratory testing, bringing the UK confirmed total to 1,984. A further 41 cases in England and 1,195 have been ‘clinically presumed'.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator and the BMA's lead on pandemic flu, called for routine work to be suspended in the areas hit hardest by the outbreak, including London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Sheffield.

‘We are basically saying in those areas where they've got this outbreak, they should say it's alert level 3 and allow them to suspend the QOF and normal work,' he said. ‘We are able to cope, but what we can't do is the day job and the flu job.'

‘This is not a question of panic, We are at a point where we now have person-to-person transmission of the disease with clusters – that is alert level 3. That has serious implications for our contractual status, but ministers won't declare it.

‘There is no question that GPs in the localities are under extreme pressure.'

The Department of Health has so far refused to declare alert level 3, insisting that UK alert levels ‘will not automatically come into play at phase 6.'

Dr Holden added that the recent ministerial reshuffle had contributed to the Department of Health's decision not to declare alert level 3.

‘Our problem is that ministers naturally don't want to be seen to be panicking. Ministers are still on a learning curve – but what ministers need to learn is that the poor infantry out there believe there is a large degree of disconnect between them and reality.'

But despite the confusion, Dr Holden insisted that NHS bodies were working well together to combat the outbreak.

‘The GPC, the BMA, the HPA and DH officials are as one on this, they have been absolutely brilliant,' he said. ‘This is all above medical politics – beyond saying you've got to make some decisions.'

GPC leaders are calling for QOF to be suspended in a string of major cities GPC leaders are calling for QOF to be suspended in a string of major cities

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