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GPs told they can’t close for training due to the coronavirus outbreak

Exclusive GPs in one area have been told that they cannot close for training because ‘unprecedented’ NHS 111 call volumes over coronavirus fears mean that practice calls cannot be covered.

In an email sent to GP practices today and seen by Pulse, an Essex CCG said that practices will not be able to close for Time to Learn training tomorrow afternoon as planned, because NHS 111 is ‘under increased pressure and seeing unprecedented call volumes’.

NHS England clarified that this is not a national issue.

In the email, NHS Basildon and Brentwood CCG chair Dr Boye Tayo said: ‘We have been advised that NHS 111 is under increased pressure and seeing unprecedented call volumes, this is expected to increase since the Essex positive [coronavirus] patient was announced in the media this weekend.

‘NHS 111 is redirecting its clinicians to call handling and the clinical assessment service to help mitigate the risk and pressures being experienced. As such, NHS111 will not be able to provide its usual practice cover for Time to Learn.’

He added that practices will not ‘be able to close in the usual way’ but will have to ‘manage the practice calls’ thanks to the outbreak ‘scaling up significantly’.

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Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty yesterday announced that a Covid-19 patient who is resident in Essex has ‘had no relevant travel and it is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad’. He said ‘investigations are ongoing’.

Last week, urgent care leaders warned that the number of calls made to NHS 111 and subsequently abandoned by patients unable to get through has spiked due to coronavirus fears. 

The news comes as the Government announced that it is considering introducing the ‘emergency registration’ of retired doctors as part of its new ‘battle plan’ against coronavirus (Covid-19).

Meanwhile, GPs have raised a number of concerns about NHS preparedness for a Covid-19 pandemic, including a lack of available protective equipment and claims that NHS 111 was signposting potential coronavirus cases to GP practices.

A slew of GP practices in England – at least 20 at the latest count – have been forced to shut for cleaning as the number potential coronavirus cases in the country continues to grow.

On the latest count, 40 people had today tested positive for the virus in the UK, including the first case in Scotland.