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Returning retired GPs can work for NHS 111, says top NHS England GP

Retired GPs who return to work to help deal with the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak could work in NHS 111 to protect them from the disease, NHS England has said.

NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said ‘that is the plan’, when asked whether those GPs who are in the ‘vulnerable’ cohort may have their expertise utilised in call centres rather than in patient-facing roles.

She was responding to a tweet from Kent GP Dr Stephanie deGiorgio.

At the same time, the NHS England advice to retired doctors says: ‘There are many opportunities for non-face to face roles, such as working with the Covid-19 Response Service (CRS) or NHS 111. In addition, local out-of-hours providers, GP surgeries and PCNs have non-face to face roles which urgently require support.’

It comes as the Government has said anyone over the age of 70 must only venture out when absolutely necessary over the next three months.

The advice also applies to people with asthma, diabetes, severe obesity, heart disease, neurological conditions, liver and kidney disease and people living with HIV.

A further cohort of particularly vulnerable patients have received a message from NHS England asking them to not leave the house at all, and to keep three steps apart even from members of their own household.

The news comes as a Watford GP has called on GPs to volunteer their spare time to help NHS 111 with an unprecedented high demand of calls.

Dr Simon Hodes sent the appeal as a WhatsApp message yesterday to GP groups across the country.

The message said: ‘We urgently need to increase capacity in 111 and would like you to volunteer to help – whatever time you can give is better than none…

‘At the moment 111 is swamped. By reducing the pressure on 111, GPs can help “flatten the peak” and reduce pressures on secondary care. From the very top, 111 are asking for the help of GPs right now.’

Dr Hodes, who says NHS England has backed his plans, hopes to build a list of willing GP volunteers who could take the pressure off NHS 111 by taking the calls from their own patients.

NHS 111 would divert calls, where possible, directly to a patient’s own GP or a GP within their practice, who would take then take the call in their free time, he said.

The GP would be able to work directly with the patients’ notes and set up any prescription or follow up care needed, without 111 needing to do anything further.

Dr Hodes, who said 200 GPs had already expressed interest, said: ‘At home over the weekend I felt guilty watching the hospital doctors working 24/7 in in such stressful conditions and wondered what I could do myself to help from the GP side.

‘This is a war – the NHS is the army – and ultimately, I will do everything I can to help defend and protect our country. Think that helping now will be a matter of life and death.’

GPs can express their interest and will be added to a database of volunteers to be called on once the scheme is running. The list will be handed to the NHS to implement the next stage.

Pulse has approached NHS England for comment.