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GP told to continue practising after seeing a confirmed coronavirus case

Exclusive A GP has been told by Public Health England to continue working after their patient tested positive for Covid-19.

The Government’s advice up to this point has been that ‘healthcare workers should not attend a healthcare setting if there is a risk they could spread Covid-19’.

However, Public Health England (PHE) has repeatedly informed a GP who saw a patient shortly before they tested positive for the virus that they only needed to self-isolate upon developing their own symptoms.

Under this advice, they are able to keep seeing patients, during the incubation period.

The GP was also informed that she was ineligible for a swab, on the basis of not being symptomatic.

Pulse spoke to the locum GP in Manchester, who wishes to protect her identity.

She explained: ‘Last Wednesday (4 March), I spent a reasonable amount of time with a patient who didn’t have any coronavirus symptoms. Due to this, I didn’t ask the normal Covid-19 questions, such as about travel.

‘A week later, the health protection agency notified my practice that this patient had subsequently become unwell, tested positive, and been admitted to intensive care.The agency (a local branch of PHE) also asked for details like when the patient came in, for how long they sat in the waiting room, and who saw them.

‘All the information they gave was: “It’s fine, you don’t need to self-isolate or stop seeing patients – you only need to do that if you develop symptoms”.’

The agency also believed the GP wasn’t high-risk because she hadn’t performed an aerosol-generating procedure on the patient. 

She then consulted further advice, which stated that it is only true that GPs don’t need to self-isolate after seeing Covid 19 patients, if they wore PPE at the time. 

As she hadn’t worn PPE, she contacted the health protection agency and was informed that this advice was ‘slightly out of date’, having changed that day (Monday 9 March).

She continued: ‘The health protection agency said to me: “If we get every healthcare professional who’s been exposed to Covid-19 to self-isolate, we won’t have an NHS”. It seems a big policy change – I don’t think GPs are aware of it, as a lot of the guidance seems more related to hospital doctors.

‘There’s very little for us in primary care, yet we’re most likely to be inadvertently exposed. Those writing the guidance don’t seem to think we need anything, or that it’s relevant, and we’re confused on other aspects, like treating people at home.

‘Practices’ decisions seem to be individual, rather than any based on higher guidance. It feels like they’re just getting around the fact that we’re all going to be exposed, and doing that by saying: “It’s fine, you can’t self-isolate, so you can just carry on”.’

Pulse has contacted PHE for comment.