The health secretary would not commit to reducing GPs’ non-urgent work after being asked by Pulse in the Downing Street press conference to set out how he will make time for GPs to carry out Covid vaccinations.
Pulse editor Jaimie Kaffash asked Matt Hancock how the Government would ensure that GPs could free up time to carry out the Covid vaccination programme at a time when GP numbers are reducing, the number of consultations are increasing and they are carrying out the largest flu vaccination ever.
However, Mr Hancock declined to answer this point, instead focusing on thanking GPs for the work they are doing and the work they will do throughout the winter.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, also in attendance, said he understood the workload pressures GPs were under, but added it was ‘incumbent on every one of us to put in extraordinary efforts’ to make the vaccination programme work.
The Pulse editor asked: ‘During the election, you acknowledged we needed 6,000 new GPs. Since then, the number of full time equivalent, fully trained GPs has decreased, GPs are doing more consultations than ever, and they are carrying out the biggest flu vaccination programme ever.
‘So can you reassure patients and GPs that you will reduce their non-urgent workload, to free up time for them to carry out the Covid vaccination programme, while ensuring that patients can continue to access the urgent care that they need?’
In response, Mr Hancock replied: ‘This is an incredibly important question.
‘What I’d say to every GP is how grateful I am for the work that you’re doing and your whole practice, everybody in primary care. Both on the flu vaccine right now, which is being rolled out in record numbers, and we’ve had a record uptake… and of course, on the normal pressures of primary care.
‘I’m really glad that a much bigger proportion of appointments in primary care are now either over the phone or by the video, because that makes life easier for GPs and for patients, and there’s been a really positive response to that. But that doesn’t, of course, lift the whole burden.’
He added that we have ‘hopefully a Covid vaccination programme ready to go’ from 1 December, but it wasn’t his ‘central expectation’ that it would start then.
Mr Hancock said: ‘The bulk of the roll-out is likely to be in the new year, if one of the two early vaccines comes through – and that’s the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine. And we must be ready, and I want to thank in advance GPs for all the work that I know they’re doing now, and that they’ll be more of this winter to keep people safe.’
Professor Van-Tam then described the Covid vaccination programme as ‘the biggest and most important thing’ the NHS has done ‘for a very long while’, with primary care at ‘front and centre stage’ of all immunisations programmes.
He added: ‘It will be ‘incumbent on every one of us to put in extraordinary efforts to make this programme move as fast as we can, consistent with the available supplies, and with the highest uptake we can possible manage.
‘This is a big opportunity to change the way the pandemic will roll out over 2021. It isn’t going to produce an overnight result, it isn’t going to affect the second wave that we’re now in, but it could very dramatically change what the spring and summer start to look like.’
The deputy chief medical officer also encouraged the public to come forward for the vaccine.
Earlier in the briefing, Mr Hancock spoke about the recent news about both testing capacity and vaccine development. He welcomed today’s findings from the US, that Moderna’s candidate has 94.5% effectiveness.