The majority of GPs in England think Covid restrictions should still apply, a Pulse survey has revealed.
Speaking to Pulse, GPs said removing restrictions meant difficulties keeping vulnerable people safe, and they expressed particular concern with regards to the scrapping of free Covid testing.
More than two-thirds of GPs are also concerned about their own health in light of the lifting of restrictions.
Since the end of last month (24 February), fully-vaccinated people and children have not been required to isolate if they develop symptoms of Covid-19 and, from next week (1 April) free testing will be scrapped altogether except for the most vulnerable.
However, asked in a Pulse survey to what extent they agreed with the Government’s decision to remove restrictions:
- Well over half (59%) of GPs said they disagreed and almost a quarter (24%) of GPs said they ‘strongly’ disagreed.
- Although another quarter (27%) of GPs did agree with scrapping restrictions, only 7.5% ‘strongly’ agreed.
- Of the respondents, more than two thirds (69%) felt concerned about their own health with the removal of restrictions – 23% of these felt very concerned. Just 31% felt unconcerned.
Repeated worries included the lifting of restrictions being ‘premature’, that the decision was ‘politically-driven’ rather than based on science and evidence, and that clinically vulnerable people are now at increased risk.
Dr Finola O’Neill, a locum GP in Exeter, said she ‘can’t see any logic’ to removing testing and self-isolation and believes it’s ‘a political measure to try to show success.’
With the Government encouraging more face-to-face GP appointments, Dr O’Neill said: ‘What happens when we can’t test to see if a patient has Covid? We are bringing vulnerable people into our surgeries, so we have to try to keep Covid out of them somehow.’
Many GPs felt testing and self-isolation rules should have been kept in place.
Dr O’Neill said: ‘The restrictions on people’s lives are generally gone. Testing just allows people to know if they’ve got Covid, and most people think it’s reasonable to stay away from others if they have.
‘Calling it a restriction to test and self-isolate, when it’s an infection control measure, is a psychological technique to influence how people view it. Testing is a diagnostic tool.’
Dr Mohammed Huda, a locum GP in Staffordshire, pointed to the fact Covid is ‘still a highly infectious disease which can have a devastating impact,’ while North Tyneside GP partner Dr Patricia Foxen said getting rid of free Covid testing ‘will make accurate diagnosis impossible’.
Dr David Coleman, a GP partner in Doncaster, said ‘emphasis on PCR testing’ should have been retained, as it ‘remains important that we are vigilant about the threat of new variants.’
He said he has taken ‘a cautious view’ with regard to restrictions throughout the pandemic, but it feels like now is ‘broadly the right time’ to lift them.
Of those GPs in favour of the removal of Covid restrictions was a locum GP who highlighted the damaging effect of them, including the backlog of patient cases and impact on people’s mental health.
The GP, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘I think there’s a balance to be struck between safety and quality of life.’
She added: ‘I think people have to have accountability for themselves. If they feel ill, they should be sensible enough to stay at home. I’m happy for us to ditch everything, including testing, and just get on with it.’
Another GP partner said: ‘The world needs to continue. I think with vaccines as they are, risk of Covid is as low as it will be, so ongoing significant restrictions can’t be justified.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, has said the removal of Covid restrictions ‘fails to protect those at highest risk of harm from Covid-19, and neglects some of the most vulnerable people in society.’
He said: ‘Far from giving people more freedom,’ it is ‘likely to cause more uncertainty and anxiety.’
In a letter sent to GP practices and PCNs last month, NHS England said Covid-positive staff should not attend work and that it would write to staff ‘in the coming weeks’ with detail on testing protocols for staff and patients.
However, no such advice has been forthcoming and GP practices remain in the dark about whether they should continue twice-weekly asymptomatic testing from 1 April – and if so, whether doctors and staff will have to fund this out of their own pockets.