GPs should contact or assess Covid-19 patients referred to them via NHS 111 within 30 minutes, NHS England has advised.
It has previously said GPs must free up one appointment per 500 patients each day to accept direct referrals from NHS 111’s Covid central assessment centre (CCAS).
But, during a live webinar on Thursday evening, NHS England’s digital lead Dr Masood Nazir said GPs could ‘start with a smaller number’, if the appointments are not filled up.
However, he also reiterated that should the pandemic take a turn for the worse, GPs may have to set aside all appointments for referrals from CCAS.
And, although NHS England previously clarified that patients booked in by CCAS will not be given a time slot and are not expected to ‘turn up’ at practices, Dr Nazir said that GPs may decide they need to see the patient face to face.
He said: ‘The patients aren’t given a slot time but they are advised that you will make contact with them fairly quickly. We would advise and are making a recommendation that you try to keep an eye on the list and make contact with the patient or make a decision about what to do with that patient within 30 minutes.’
Asked by GPs if this was a ‘requirement’, Dr Nazir said: ‘All we’re asking is that some contact is made with the patients in a timely manner, so they’re aware that they’ve not been forgotten.’
Practices ‘ideally’ need to hold open the minimum number of appointments of one per 500 patients, Dr Nazir added.
But he said: ‘We’re happy for you to start with a smaller number, but if that smaller number gets full we’d encourage you to keep an eye on it and increase that to make sure you do get to the minimum of one in 500.’
According to Dr Nazir, ‘the experience so far of practices’ which have enabled direct booking via GP Connect is that they ‘may get a few appointments’.
But he added: ‘If the crisis gets worse, then I think all of us will be affected and the appointments may go up or we may have to stop looking at doing routine work and just focus on this.’
The new requirement for appointments to keep open for NHS 111 direct booking includes the previously contractually required one in 3,000. These appointments should be booked into the same session, making them ‘much easier’ to manage for practices, Dr Nazir said.
And he said it was up to GPs how they consulted the referred patients, whether via video, telephone or face to face ‘based on your assessment’.
At the end of last month, NHS England said the slots practices have been asked to save will ‘inevitably’ be filled with only very sick coronavirus patients and asked GPs to prepare for a ‘rush’ of these patients.