Trainee NHS doctors may be relocated by Health Education England (HEE) to help tackle the coronavirus (Covid-19) emergency.
In an emailed update to GPs, sent this week and seen by Pulse, HEE said that ‘in exceptional circumstances’ the NHS may require trainees ‘to work in different clinical areas or even in a different provider within their local healthcare system’ during the crisis.
This comes after the UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told MPs earlier this month that medical students may be required to help in the coronavirus outbreak.
But the BMA stressed it is ‘crucial’ for GP trainees to remain in primary care during the period, because practices will be coming under as much pressure as hospitals.
The HEE update said: ‘In exceptional circumstances this may mean they [trainees] need to work in different clinical areas or even in a different provider within their local healthcare system.’
However HEE stressed this should not become a standard way of working.
‘However, it is important that these circumstances are truly exceptional and that any diversion of doctors, or others from their training/normal professional responsibilities does not become normalised,’ the email said.
HEE said it will do everything it can to reduce the impact of changes on service provision, as well as minimising the impact on progression for trainees.
The letter said: ‘In conjunction with stakeholders, HEE has developed a set of principles to ensure trainee welfare; that trainees continue to practise safely and that are not exposed to risks to themselves, their families, colleagues and patients through their work or training.’
The BMA’s GP trainees subcommittee co-chair Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: ‘In the face of a pandemic, we’re going to see the NHS having to change the way it operates, prioritising resources and staff, so that care reaches those who need it most. As we’ve seen in recent winters, this can unfortunately mean junior doctors having to redeploy to a different clinical area.
‘While we’re told this will only happen in “exceptional circumstances”, if we do reach this stage, safety for both doctors and patients must be absolutely paramount and it is vital that these doctors are not practising outside of their clinical competence, and that proper inductions and support are provided for trainees.’
But he added: ‘There must be recognition that – as much as hospitals – GP practices will come under intense pressure in the weeks to come, and therefore it is crucial that GP trainees remain in primary care.
‘Of course, any diversion of doctors from their training or normal professional responsibilities, must not become normalised once the health service begins to recover.’
LMCs have begun preparing local GP practices to suspend routine appointments, with Derby and Derbyshire LMC announcing ‘it is likely’ that routine GP appointments will be put on hold ‘whilst surgeries concentrate on urgent care for the most unwell’.