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Give GP practices occupational health support to risk assess staff, says BMA

The BMA has called for GPs to have ‘urgent’ access to occupational health services to support Covid-19 risk assessments in practices.

In a letter seen by Pulse, the BMA said that GP partners are ‘not qualified’ to make decisions ‘alone’ over appropriate adjustments for at-risk staff earlier this month.

It comes as practices were told last week that they should ensure they risk-assess black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff in order ‘to consider if they should see patients face to face’.

GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens that the risk assessment process is ‘not as straightforward’ in general practice as it is in secondary care.

While the advice in secondary care is for occupational health services to identify any required adjustments after line managers have conducted staff risk assessments, there is no occupational health provision in general practice, he said.

He added: ‘This situation means that in practice, partners of GP practices will most likely have to undertake the initial risk assessment and then alone have to make decisions, which they might not be qualified to make, about the appropriate mitigations for each individual following the assessment.’

Access to occupational health services for practices and their staff must be established ‘as a matter of priority’, the letter said.

It added: ‘We are therefore requesting your urgent action, in light of the unacceptable delay to the Covid-19 fund, to enable immediate free access to an occupation health service for all those working in general practice, and that CCGs and NHS England also provide the necessary additional support to those practices negatively affected by undertaking risk assessments, resulting in the practice having to make significant changes and facing escalating costs.’

Adjustments made for high-risk staff could ‘particularly’ impact smaller practices, those in rural areas and those with ‘predominantly BAME’ staff, it said.

The ‘additional financial burden’ of extra locum or PPE costs will come as ‘a further blow’ to GPs and the Government must deliver the promised Covid support fund ‘at the earliest opportunity’, Dr Vautrey said.

Practices were told to risk assess staff and prioritise remote working for those most at risk earlier this month.

And NHS England’s latest GP standard operating procedure added that practices should ensure they risk assess all staff, including those from BAME backgrounds, in order ‘to consider if they should see patients face to face’.

Meanwhile, Public Health England has said it will formally submit the final version of its report with recommendations regarding ethnic minorities and Covid-19 next week.

The first version of rapid review into coronavirus risk-factors found that people of Bangladeshi origin are most at risk of dying from Covid-19 but faced criticism for being ‘a whitewash’.