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GPs must prepare for winter Covid-19 spike that is ‘worse’ than first, warns report

GPs will play an important role in ‘preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed this winter’, with the UK facing a potential second Covid-19 wave that could be worse than the first, a new report by has found.

The Academy of Medical Sciences, in a report published today (14 July), warned the UK could see a ‘large resurgence’ of Covid-19 this winter, leading to 120,000 deaths, in a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’. This would also exacerbate pressures on the NHS and social care, it said.

The NHS would not be able to remobilise staff and resources in the same way it did during the first wave of Covid-19 later this year, due to other winter pressures, delayed non-Covid care and a likely increase in staff absences due to sickness. A possible flu epidemic would add to these problems.

The report notes there is a ‘high degree of uncertainty about how the Covid-19 epidemic will evolve in the UK over the coming months’, but instead highlights what the worst outcome would mean for the public and the health system.

In this worst-case scenario, the modelling suggests there would be 120,000 deaths in hospitals alone between September 2020 and June 2021, though these figures do not account for Government action to tackle the spread of the virus or medical advancements in that time.

The organisation has urged for the UK to ‘prepare now’ to prevent the health and care systems from being overrun. Primary care would play a significant role in these efforts, it said.

Increasing uptake of flu vaccinations, particularly for the elderly and high-risk populations, will be ‘crucial’ for this winter, the advisory group said.

GP practices should continue to use telephone triage, online consultations and electronic prescriptions through the winter, but also ensure that those who cannot access the technology are not left behind, it added.

Both the NHS and social care would need to reorganise staff and facilities to maintain ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ zones. The Government would also need to ensure there is adequate PPE and increase the capacity of the test and trace programme to cope with the overlapping symptoms of flu and other winter infections.

Secondary care would, in the worst-case scenario, face a crisis in dealing with the demand, with NHS and social care systems typically operating at close to maximum capacity in normal winters.

The report said: ‘July and August must be a period of intense preparation for our reasonable worst-case scenario for health in the winter that we set out in this report, including a resurgence of Covid19, which might be greater than that seen in the spring.’

It later aded: ‘Primary care saw 850,000 patients every day in England during 2019; 70,231 of these patients attended A&E departments, of which 13,400 were admitted to hospital. These figures demonstrate the importance of primary care in preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed this winter.’

A version of this story first appeared in Pulse’s sister publication Healthcare Leader.