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Most shielding GPs don’t feel ready to return to work, says BMA

The majority of GPs who are shielding from coronavirus have not yet agreed a return-to-work date with their practice, a BMA survey has found.

The BMA’s latest Covid-19 tracker survey polled almost 2,000 GPs in England and Wales and found that 180 are currently shielding themselves or live with someone who is shielding.

It comes as the Government has said it is looking at bringing shielding GPs ‘back to work’ in practices from 1 August, when the shielding programme will pause.

But the BMA survey found that only 32% of GPs who are shielding or ‘protecting someone who is vulnerable’ have agreed a return to work date with their practice.

Almost half (45%) said they would not feel ‘confident’ to return to their ‘normal role’ after an individual risk assessment, the BMA said.

And more than a quarter (28%) said they would not feel confident returning even after ‘safe-working adaptations’ have been agreed with their place of work, it added.

However, the majority (80%) said that they would feel confident to return after a vaccine was available to them – while 60% said the number of Covid cases would have to have reduced ‘significantly’.

Meanwhile, the BMA today published a briefing on ‘supporting staff who are shielding to return to work’.

‘Appropriate’ workplace adjustments include access to ‘adequate’ PPE and the ‘immediate withdrawal’ of vulnerable staff in the case of any coronavirus outbreaks, it said.

However, the briefing document called on the Government to provide ‘clear guidance and protocols’ on how workplaces can be made safe for staff who have been shielding.

The BMA also recommended that GP practices ‘should be funded to cover the full pay of the staff that can’t return to work as well as cover for their replacement’.

It added: ‘Commissioners should provide support and funding to ensure that workplace settings are able to make the necessary adjustments.’

And there needs to be ‘clarity’ around ‘what the process for appraisals and revalidation will look like in the long-term for those who cannot return to their usual roles’, the BMA said. 

The briefing added that those ‘working remotely’ in primary care should consider:

  • Telephone triage;
  • VC/ telephone consultations;
  • Clinic letter coding such as Docman;
  • Medication reviews;
  • Chronic disease management;
  • Prescribing review;
  • E-learning such as safeguarding.

Earlier this month, the Government announced it is looking at bringing shielding GPs ‘back to work’ and said work is ongoing to draw up advice on how to make practices safe for shielding staff to return.

GPs with the conditions listed on the shielded patient list had previously been advised to work from home with ‘all possible support in place’.

Last month, the 2.2 million people who have been deemed extremely vulnerable to serious illness or death from Covid-19 were told they could quit shielding from 1 August, while the guidance would be significantly relaxed from 6 July.

However, the shielding list will be retained and kept up-to-date for the event of a new virus spike, with GPs and specialists being asked to rewrite the list based on a new risk prediction tool being developed by the University of Oxford and NHS Digital.

Pulse has revealed that this reworked shielding list could be significantly expanded as evidence has emerged to show those with hypertension, CVD and diabetes have a high risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19.

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