Exclusive GPs in Leicester have been told by their CCG to only see patients where essential, and to ask patients to wear a face covering when they do come in to the surgery.
It comes as health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday that Leicester will not see lockdown eased on 4 July along with the rest of England, while extremely vulnerable patients should continue to avoid all social contact beyond the announced relaxation date of 6 July.
This came as Covid-19 infection rates seen in the city were a third higher than in the second-worst hit region in England.
In a letter to GPs seen by Pulse, NHS Leicester City CCG chair Professor Azhar Farooqi said he understood local GP practices would ‘be concerned re the covid infection rate in our city, the lockdown announced and the impact on your practices’.
While the CCG was urgently meeting to discuss the situation, he told practices to take a number of key actions, including to ‘review appointments at the practice and ensure all are essential’ – adding that ‘non-essential work can be postponted’.
NHS England had told GPs last month that they may need to halt the resumption of routine services in the case of a second Covid-19 spike.
The letter also said practices should ‘continue with face coverings for patients in the practice’ and ensure the ‘home visiting service’ undertakes all visits.
Practices should also:
- continue with the ‘total triage’ model for all appointments;
- continue to refer to hot hubs if they suspect Covid-19 infection;
- continue with PPE; and
- maintain hand washing, hygiene and social distancing in practices ‘to help protect your team’.
Lastly, the letter stressed that practices should reinforce messages to patients regarding social distancing, hand washing and shielding ‘at every opportunity’.
Professor Farooqi said: ‘The last is important as public behaviour will be impacting on the spread of this virus.’
The Department of Health and Social Care recently said patients should wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained, including in GP practices. But, unlike for hospitals, Public Health England has not issued mandatory guidance.
GPs were also told at the start of the Covid-19 crisis to set up a dedicated home visiting team for shielded patients, comprised of staff members who had not been exposed to patients with virus symptoms.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Hancock said: ‘Unfortunately, while cases in most parts of the country have fallen since the peak, in Leicester they have continued to rise.
‘The seven-day infection rate in Leicester is 135 cases per 100,000 people, which is three times higher than the next highest city. Leicester accounts for around 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week.
‘And admissions to hospital are between six and 10 per day rather than around one a day at other trusts.’
Public Health England’s preliminary investigation into Covid-19 exceedances in Leicester states that a total of 3,216 cases have been reported in the city, with 944 in the last 14 days.
And it has listed a number of other areas where infection rates are also placing them at high risk, including Bradford, Barnsley, Rochdale and Bedford.
NHS England previously issued the message that GP practices should resume routine work only if it can be done ‘safely’.