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A third of GP practices may take year or longer to return to pre-Covid capacity

A third of GPs believe it will take up to a year or longer for their practice to return to pre-Covid levels of capacity, even with ‘no future spikes’ of the virus.

The data comes from the BMA’s latest Covid-19 tracker survey, which polled almost 2,000 GPs in England and Wales.

GPs have previously warned that they are battling a backlog of referrals and patients who have been ‘overlooked’ during the coronavirus crisis.

Around 26% of the 1,770 GP respondents said consultations would take between three and 12 months to return to normal when asked how quickly their practice will ‘return to full pre-Covid levels of capacity… assuming there are no future Covid spikes’.

And a further 7% of GPs believed it could take ‘longer’ than a year or that consultations would ‘never’ return to pre-Covid levels.

Another 26% said GP consultations would return to full capacity ‘within three months’ and 24% said they were ‘already there’.

Of those who said they would never return to the same capacity or would need longer than a year:

  • 65% agreed this was because social distancing cannot be achieved at full capacity;
  • 50% agreed this was because they ‘cannot clear’ their backlog of patients and waiting list;
  • 37% said it is ‘impossible’ to separate Covid from non-Covid patient flows;
  • Almost a quarter (24%) said they would need to invest money to return to full capacity but that no funding is available;
  • And 21% agreed their practice needs to ‘hold spare capacity to manage surges’.

Dr Steve Kell, GP partner at Larwood Health Partnership in Worksop, told Pulse that ‘it’s difficult to see things getting back to normal at the moment’.

He added: ‘Certainly the recent NHS England letter asking us to restart calling people in for routine reviews seems completely unrealistic compared to the demand to wear masks and to socially distance.

‘It’s for GPs to guide how quickly we move back to a normal system, bearing in mind that we put staff and patients at risk if we get it wrong.’

Meanwhile, the Government must ‘support practices while they’re in this phase’, after they have put ‘a huge amount of effort at their own cost’ into social distancing measures, Dr Kell added.

He said: ‘Hospitals have very quickly had their historic debts paid off and moved to a block contract and so the recent letter from NHS England seems completely at odds with the level of support given to secondary care.’

NHS England’s letter, which set out the ‘second’ phase of general practice’s response to coronavirus, outlined plans for a major expansion of the flu scheme – which will form part of this year’s QOF – and said GPs should resume patient reviews and health checks including routine medication reviews from 1 July.

It comes as official data revealed last week that the number of GP appointments in England is increasing towards pre-lockdown levels. 

But the Academy of Medical Sciences warned that GPs must prepare for a winter Covid-19 spike that is ‘worse’ than the first. 

Meanwhile, general practice was last week omitted in plans for £3bn in extra funding to help the NHS ‘get ready for winter’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the long-awaited General Practice Covid Support Fund promised by NHS England has yet to receive approval from the Treasury.

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