Lifting England’s lockdown without new measures in place would risk aggravating the crisis in the NHS, and leave GP practices ‘overwhelmed’, the BMA has warned.
The doctors’ union said ‘major reforms’ will be needed in England once lockdown is lifted to keep the infection rates low.
It said that without such measures general practice could be left ‘unable to provide even the most critical of patient care’.
The BMA urged the Government to replace the ‘rule of six’, which allows up to six households to mix, with a new ‘two households rule’ and to continue the ‘work from home where possible’ message.
It also called for more support for vulnerable groups and action in addressing health inequalities.
Before lockdown can be eased, the BMA said the Test and Trace system would need to be ‘reformed and revamped so it is fit for purpose’. This would include ensuring seamless data sharing between organisations, making better use of local intelligence, and increasing funding for local public health teams.
‘Mass asymptomatic testing programmes – such as that currently being trialed in Liverpool – could form an important part of finding and rapidly isolating new asymptomatic cases,’ it said.
The BMA said practices will need ‘clear and consistent messaging’ from the Government and NHS England about what they are expected to do, as they plan for the rollout of the Covid vaccination programme.
It added: ‘This is particularly important to ensure infection control measures are not stepped down prematurely. In healthcare settings, clear advice is required on the continued use of PPE and segregated care pathways. The Government needs to plan now for how this will be managed and communicated.’
Systems must also be in place to allow for notifying patients en masse, and recording vaccination status in the GP record, the report said.
It added that GP practices, which will be delivering the Covid vaccination campaign alongside the flu programme and routine care, must be given the support required.
Effective national and local campaigns will be needed to provide transparent information about the vaccine, to clarify ‘who can access a vaccination, when and how’, as well as to tackle misinformation, it said.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We must not squander the efforts of the many people who have followed the law, stayed at home, sacrificed freedoms and incurred financial loss in order to contain the virus.
‘When the first lockdown ended, there was no coherent plan for keeping Covid-19 at bay, no clear and simple public messaging; this was followed by spiralling infection rates, more businesses failing, new ‘local’ lockdowns, and now we have a death toll at more than 52,000.’
He added: ‘As England prepares to exit its second lockdown, it is unthinkable that we make the same mistakes again because this time, the impact will be far worse. It’s reasonable to conclude that without these measures, the NHS will not be able to cope with caring for even the most critically ill patients.
‘This report demonstrates a sustainable plan for reducing the level of infections from Covid-19 until a vaccine programme is under way.’
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Management in Practice