The health secretary has said the Government is working to ‘free up’ GP time so they can dedicate themselves to delivering Covid booster jabs.
Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, Sajid Javid said that there is ‘nothing more important than the booster programme’.
He added: ‘We are working at pace with GPs’ representatives over the last two days on how we can free up some of their time and I won’t set that out myself now – that will be done by the NHS directly – but I will say the GPs are listening and working very constructively with us on that.’
The health secretary also agreed that he is ‘prepared to revisit’ pressure on GPs to deliver more face-to-face appointments.
He made the comment in response to a presenter’s question that said: ‘The reaction from GPs is that they’re willing to get involved as they were last time, but that you have to make choices because there is a workload issue and you have wanted them to see more patients face to face.
‘Are you prepared to revisit that, to make the choices that allow them to get more involved this time around as well?’
Mr Javid responded: ‘Yes, this is our new national mission in terms of the public health of this country – there is nothing more important than this booster programme.’
It comes as the BMA last night said that practices need more time rather than more money to deliver the booster campaign.
GP Committee chair for England Dr Farah Jameel said: ‘GPs and their teams will always be there for their patients and their communities, but will need substantial support if we are to further accelerate the booster campaign.
‘At present, practices physically don’t have the staff or spare capacity to manage the additional numbers of patients expected to come forward for boosters alongside all the non-Covid care and assessments their contracts have bound them to do, so the funding, whilst welcome, will do little to help alleviate current pressures. With a finite number of staff and hours in the day, there is a limit to what practices can achieve and the Government and NHS England needs to be honest with the public about this.’
She added: ‘If the Government and NHS England want more practices to get involved again with vaccinations, as many will want to do at such a critical time, they need to be freed from bureaucracy and lower-priority, centrally imposed targets – releasing time and staff so practice teams can get jabs into arms as quickly as possible.’
Dr Jameel added that it is ‘promising’ that NHS England has ‘alluded to alleviating the burdens on practices to help free-up more time for them to deliver boosters, but we urgently need more detail and mostly importantly, action’.
Speaking at the same news conference, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard announced increases to the payment per vaccination and said NHS England was looking at ‘cutting other burdens’ for GPs.
She also said they are looking at whether the 15-minute post-vaccination observation period can be scrapped to speed up vaccinations and that the CQC has agreed to continue to pause GP practice inspections.
Responding to the news of the expanded booster rollout yesterday, the RCGP said it was ‘sensible’ but joined the calls for ‘support to manage escalating workload’ such as the suspension of ‘bureaucratic demands’ like QOF.
RCGP vice-chair Dr Gary Howsam said: ‘Today’s announcements will involve a significant expansion of the Covid vaccination programme, both in terms of volume and complexity, so it’s crucial that GPs and their teams that are involved receive clear and urgent communication as to how these developments will impact this vital work.’
He added: ‘GPs and our teams have played a leading role in the Covid vaccination programme since its inception and more than 1,000 GP-led sites across the country are still vaccinating on top of other vital work, including delivering care to more than a million patients a day and the flu vaccination programme.
‘General practice is highly experienced in delivering effective vaccination campaigns on a mass-scale, but further involvement in the booster campaign will require sufficient resourcing, particularly in terms of staff, and support to manage escalating workload – including the suspension of bureaucratic demands, such as QOF – as we approach what is looking like an incredibly tough winter.’
Earlier this week, GP leaders called for GPs to be freed up to focus on speeding up the Covid booster jab campaign in response to the new Omicron variant of concern – including by suspending QOF.
Dr Jameel said she had written to NHS England to ‘offer the full support and force of general practice in the face of an evolving threat to the nation’ but that GPs would need ‘substantial support’.
‘I have asked to meet with NHSEI, on behalf of GPs, to explore how doctors and their teams can be supported in the coming weeks and months’, she said.
Meanwhile, England GPs last week called for NHS England to ‘guarantee funding security’ for GP practices until the end of March.