GP practices have been asked to set up arrangements within PCNs, or by buddying up with other practices, to ensure patients can continue accessing services when contact traced doctors have to isolate.
The advice comes after England’s deputy CMO admitted the absence of asymptomatic GPs and staff would ‘put pressure’ on practices.
An NHS England letter sent on Tuesday said that ‘all primary care contractors’ including GPs, should ‘prepare for potential staff absence’ by reviewing their ‘existing business continuity plans’.
‘This includes ensuring that arrangements are in place within a primary care network or between buddies to maintain patient access to services,’ the letter said.
GP providers should also ‘inform their commissioner as soon as they consider that delivery of the full contracted service may be compromised by staff absence due to Test and Trace’, said NHS England.
Commissioners will then ‘work with the contractor to put business continuity arrangements in place and to maintain access to services for patients’, NHS England said, with providers also needing to ‘update information on patient accessible websites and the impacted NHS 111 Directory of Services profiles’.
CCGs are also asked to inform their Regional Incident Coordination centre, which will notify the National Incident Coordination Centre, the document added.
This comes as the Government launched its Test and Trace programme two weeks ago, under which people who test positive for Covid-19 are asked to provide contact details for their recent close contacts so that they can be traced and asked to isolate for 14 days.
Birmingham LMC executive secretary Dr Robert Morley said: ‘This would appear to be sensible guidance, and indeed I would expect that most practices probably already have this or something similar in place within their PCN, and reflected in their business continuity plans.’
It comes as the first data on the Test and Trace programme showed that the Government has so far been unable to contact a third of those who tested positive.
The same NHS England system letter also said face masks would become mandatory in GP practices from next week, although at the time of writing PHE had still not published updated guidance.