GP practices have been asked to ‘restore routine services’ following an ‘incredible’ Covid booster drive.
A letter from NHS England said that it was ‘now important that all services across the NHS, including in primary care, are able to restore routine services’ that had been ‘paused in line with the Prime Minister’s request to focus all available resource on the Omicron national mission’.
The letter said: ‘This further guidance follows that issued by NHSEI, BMA and RCGP, in December 2021, and recognises that as we approach the end of January, we anticipate there will be lower demand for boosters given the high uptake levels to date.’
It went on to ask GP practices to focus on three priorities up until 31 March, ‘while continuing to use their professional judgement to clinically prioritise care’:
- ‘continued delivery’ of GP services;
- management of symptomatic Covid-19 patients in the community; and
- ongoing delivery of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
According to the letter – signed by NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani, interim director for primary care Dr Ursula Montgomery and outgoing primary care director Ed Waller – GPs have vaccinated 6.8 million people during the booster campaign, or 53% of all boosters administered.
‘This is an historic achievement and the work of general practice is greatly valued, appreciated and noted,’ the letter said.
The BMA and RCGP’s interim guidance for practices during the booster campaign had said GPs needed to decide for themselves what workload to pause to make time for the jabs.
Meanwhile, NHS England’s new letter said: ‘Importantly, we value and support your professional clinical judgement in balancing the above priorities, with the help of your local system.
‘In applying those professional clinical judgements, the needs of your most vulnerable patients will continue to be paramount, as will your concerns about the potential impact of unmet or deferred care needs and the impact of this for your patient population.’
The news comes as GPs carried out 4.5 million more appointments last month than they did in December 2020, according to data published today.
Total appointments delivered in general practice stood at 367 million for 2021 – the highest ever and 17.% higher than for 2019 before the pandemic happened.
The BMA said the figures highlighted that the pressures on general practice were ‘simply not sustainable’ particularly against a backdrop of fewer GPs.
NHS England’s priorities for GP practices until 31 March
Continued delivery of general practice services
Including ‘timely ongoing access for urgent care with clinical prioritisation, the ongoing management of long-term conditions, suspected cancer, routine vaccination and screening, annual health checks for vulnerable patients, and tackling the backlog of deferred care events’.
Management of symptomatic Covid-19 patients in the community
Including ‘supporting monitoring and access to therapeutics where clinically appropriate’ and caring for patients with Covid and long Covid.
Ongoing delivery of the Covid-19 vaccination programme
PCNs should continue to focus on reaching the most vulnerable people and minimise any inequalities in uptake working with CCG, local authority, and community partners’.
‘We ask that PCN Groupings prioritise booster vaccination of care home residents and staff, those with underlying health conditions (as per table 3 in the Green Book) and carers, those who are housebound, and eligible 12-15 year olds, boosters (their fourth dose) for immunosuppressed people aged 12 and above, and the primary course of vaccination for at risk 5-11 year olds.’
PCNs should also ‘undertake further outreach activity to the unvaccinated or hesitant, where not already done so. Your relationship with and knowledge of your patients is key, as always’.
Source: NHS England letter