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Covid staff absences force GP practices to stop non-urgent care

Covid staff absences force GP practices to stop non-urgent care

A number of GP practices have had to shift to urgent-only care after staff Covid absences have left them struggling to maintain regular services.

It comes as the Office for National Statistics‘ latest infection survey had estimated that 1 in 16 people in England had Covid the previous week, with cases continuing to rise by 3-6% per day last week.

Surrey GP partner Dr Dave Triska told Pulse half his GP workforce are off due to Covid today, and about a third of the total workforce at his practice.

Dr Triska’s practice has 11,000 patients and eight GPs, four of which are currently on sick leave.

As a result, the practice has had to restrict the care it is giving and shift to urgent-only, something it has never had to do before.

On Twitter there were reports of similar or worse situations.

  • St Mary’s Surgery in Cambridgeshire has also had to limit services. An automated phone message asks patients to be aware that ‘we have many members of staff who have Covid, so we are operating with reduced staffing levels’.
  • Northern Ireland patient Zoe Montgomery said her practice had only one GP working last Friday, as the other five were all ill with Covid.
  • A practice in South Manchester was said to have 10 members of staff, including doctors, off with Covid, with the practice having to be closed for 48h for deep cleaning. This was according to Sheffield GP Dr Caroline Mitchell, who also said there was Covid in her own practice.
  • Hertfordshire LMC representative and GP Dr Calisir said she was having a similar experience, with ‘almost no nurses and five doctors down’ in her surgery last week.
  • A nurse from Yorkshire and the Humber said her team were ‘very close to closing the satellite GP surgery I work at’ on Friday, as a third of the staff were either off with Covid or not working because their children had it. One member of staff had to come in from leave to help out.

Dr Triska told Pulse it is ‘easily’ the worst it’s been since restrictions were lifted at the end of February, as ‘it’s just continual reinfections’.

‘The concern is, this now seems to be a never-ending cycle, because what will stop this from happening again, in a couple of months. There is no barrier, there’s no protection and all these people caught it outside of work. 

‘We can only control our own environment. We’ve got air filters in, we’ve got the windows open, we’ve got FFP2 and FFP3 for everyone. And you get done by everyone outside.’

Dr Triska said his practice has never before had to shift to urgent-only services, ‘not even when our neighbouring practice burnt down, and we were taking their patients that day’.

‘We’ve never had to restrict services like we’ve had to due to Covid.

‘We just physically don’t have the people to do it. There’s a limit to how much you can do.

‘It feels a bit like Russian Roulette because we’re all waiting to go down.’

He added: ‘There’s a point where we’ll reach critical numbers, we’re not far off it now. What do you do? There is no backup plan. There’s no team that parachutes in from outside. It’s not like a hospital where we’ve got reserves who can go into the emergency care side of things.

‘We’re basically on our own, and we have to make do. One of the problems is that there is no structural plan for general practice resilience in business continuity, from NHS England, or CCGs, or anything.’

Dr Triska said: ‘There is no ability to pick up the slack for practices if they’re struggling.’

The news comes as Pulse revealed on Friday that GPs can’t access Covid tests, despite the Government asking the public to leave them for NHS staff and vulnerable patients.

It comes amid a huge rise in Covid case numbers and hospitalisations in recent weeks – with NHS England warning that it is jeopardising the elective recovery plan – and as the majority of GPs in England surveyed by Pulse think Covid restrictions were removed too soon.

In a letter sent to GP practices and PCNs last month, NHS England said Covid-positive staff should not attend work and that it would write to staff ‘in the coming weeks’ with detail on testing protocols for staff and patients.

However, no such advice has been forthcoming and GP practices remain in the dark about whether they should continue twice-weekly asymptomatic testing from 1 April – and if so, whether doctors and staff will have to fund this out of their own pockets. 


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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Dave Haddock 28 March, 2022 4:03 pm

Will Practices that offer a reduced service have their funding reduced proportionately? If not, why not?

David Triska 28 March, 2022 4:20 pm

No contractual breach in doing so, why would funding be reduced? Also keen to hear of how in the absence of external help we are supposed to practice safely (i.e. what would the alternative be)

Samir Shah 29 March, 2022 12:12 am

Question: Will practices that offer a reduced service have their funding reduced proportionately? If no, why not?
Answer: Because it’s due to sickness…..

Patrufini Duffy 29 March, 2022 4:40 pm

The key services to be stopped is ear syringing and nannying. The clinic explaining trivia has also been suspended.

Dave Haddock 30 March, 2022 4:14 pm

The key service stopped locally is GPs seeing patients.

Patrufini Duffy 30 March, 2022 6:30 pm

I agree Dave.
The reality is small surgeries have no option but to see their lists, with little off sick manoeuvre. The super mega practices, well, they just wing it and keep swallowing up more lists, more schemes, more arrs, and doing less.

James Weems 30 March, 2022 11:11 pm

Hi Dave. What happened to finding of out patients when they all but stopped? Did it continue?