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Lockdown might be easing, but the NHS still needs protecting

This week, many doctors, including myself, were rightly disturbed by the results of the latest BMA survey.

It found that more than a third of BAME doctors in the UK are still not being given access to potentially life-saving Covid-19 risk assessments – nearly two months after NHS England issued recommendations that risk assessments should be carried out for all staff as a precautionary measure.

For white doctors, 42% said they haven’t had risk assessments yet.

Results also showed that BAME doctors are still less likely to feel fully protected from coronavirus compared to their white colleagues, and far more likely to often feel pressured into treating patients without appropriate personal protective equipment, which is incredibly worrying.

As a GP, I’m all too aware of these issues on the ground, with many BAME GPs and their teams still waiting for risk assessments to be carried out, all the while they continue to selflessly dedicate themselves to seeing patients and fight this pandemic.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg and a stark reminder that there are still dozens of shortfalls when it comes to properly protecting staff and making sure we have the resources we need to do our jobs safely and thoroughly. That’s all we’ve ever wanted.

One of the first promises made by the Westminster Government was support for the NHS, with chancellor Rishi Sunak making clear that the NHS will get ‘whatever it needs’ to tackle the virus. Indeed, a key aim of the first phase of lockdown was to prevent the health service from becoming overwhelmed.

All doctors want to do is to be able to look after patients properly, and make sure that we’re safe while doing so

The nation watched as Nightingale hospitals sprang up overnight in March, equipped with everything they needed to deal with the first wave of this virus, but now they lie empty and the rest of the NHS, despite calling out for their own resources, seems to have been forgotten.

As well as desperately needing more access to risk assessments for staff, general practice is still waiting for movement on promises made by the Westminster Government – occupational healthcare provisions for GP practices, for example.

Every other healthcare worker in community and hospital trusts have access to an occupational health service that provides expert help, advice and support, but this most fundamental of services to support the workforce is something that has been denied to those working in general practice for decades.

This pandemic has exposed how short-sighted this lack of provision is, and if the Westminster Government is going to learn anything from the last few months, then it must take swift steps to address this.

On top of this, general practice is also waiting for roadmap packages to help surgeries navigate workforce fluctuations, as well as the Covid-19 fund to support practices financially, which is still yet to be signed off.

Although the number of new infections is dropping, GPs are still at risk, and our workload has grown exponentially as we try to respond to ‘business as usual’ activities on top of caring for those who have and have had the disease.

Without the support we need, particularly funding to support the delivery of care on the frontline, we are faced with very serious questions about the impact this will all have on the safety and effectiveness of general practice services and, in turn, the wellbeing of our patients.

Lockdown might be easing, but this virus has not been defeated yet – far from it. We’ve seen in Germany over recent days how quickly the embers can spark again, and we must do everything to make sure that not only does history repeat itself here, but also that every part of the NHS is properly equipped and protected in the meantime.

All I, and every other doctor wants to do, is to be able to look after patients properly, and make sure that we are safe while doing so. It shouldn’t be a tough ask.

Dr Farah Jameel is on the BMA’s GPC England Executive team