Exclusive NHS 111’s Covid Clinical Assessment Service (CCAS) is 300 GPs short and has restarted recruitment to fill the shortfall, Pulse has learned.
The service was set up to further triage Covid-19 patients after the NHS 111 algorithm has been unable to determine whether or not they need hospital admission – but GPs previously warned they faced bureaucratic hurdles to join it.
In a recent newsletter for clinicians seen by Pulse, the CCAS said it has started to bring GPs back to work for the hotline and is ‘looking to recruit more GP capability’ due to ‘rising’ call volumes.
The newsletter said: ‘I am sure you are acutely aware that call volumes are rising as the second wave of the pandemic is beginning to emerge.
‘The current thinking, based on all of the analysis, is that the CCAS service will see continued growth in Covid-19 activity week-on-week throughout winter and into the spring. This means additional staff will be required to meet the demand.’
It added: ‘As you may be aware, we have started to bring back GPs who have previously supported the service and we are requesting that more reservists come forward to support the service over the coming days, weeks and months.
‘In addition, we are also looking to recruit more GP capability to work with you on this service.’
It comes as CCAS was forced to stop using nurses and allied health professionals – such as paramedics – from handling patient calls in August, after an audit revealed more than half did not pass safety criteria.
The newsletter said that meeting demand is an ‘ongoing challenge’.
It said: ‘In all health environments, there is an ongoing challenge to match the available clinical capacity to the demand for service. CCAS is no different in that respect.’
A spokesperson for the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the CCAS, told Pulse that it is currently staffed by 1,713 GPs and emergency registered practitioners, but that it needs around 2,000.
However, the spokesperson added that SCAS is ‘confident we can meet demand now and in the future’.
They reiterated that the CCAS is ‘reinvigorating’ staff who chose to ‘take a break’ from the service over the summer as well as recruiting new staff. And they added that the CCAS is now ‘offering more shifts’ to its existing GPs.
Last month, Pulse revealed that CCAS clinicians were struggling to book shifts due to ‘obstructive’ rostering software – while not being paid for ‘months at a time’.
In the new communication to clinicians, SCAS said: ‘We do understand there are challenges with WORKSuite and are working with the supplier of that system to get urgent improvements made to the stability and functionality of it.
‘The supplier has been interviewing users, including GPs, to understand the issues faced in order to find solutions.’
GPs working for the service have also claimed that NHS England is expanding the scope of the telephone hotline towards a more general clinical assessment service ‘on the sly’ – and without increasing their pay – although NHSE said it was still focused on Covid cases.
However since last month, the scope of GP work on CCAS has been expanded to include drug prescribing using the electronic prescription service (EPS).