It is ‘vital’ that GPs are informed of plans for the future of the shielding programme so that they are able to advise patients, GP leaders have warned.
It comes as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it was reviewing the future of the shielding programme ‘beyond the end of June’.
The NHS will write to shielding patients about the outcome of the review once a decision has been reached, it said.
Asked if GPs would be informed of any changes, the Department of Health and Social Care told Pulse that GPs would also be contacted but that discussions are ongoing as to how and when.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said it is ‘vital’ GPs are kept informed as ‘thousands’ of patients could approach them over concerns about any changes to the programme.
He said: ‘GPs have been at the forefront of identifying patients who have been shielding and answering their questions about the programme.
‘We anticipate that thousands of patients will approach their GP worried about how the process will change and how it will impact on them, so it is vital that we are given as much clear information as possible, about both the safety and practicalities of any changes, so that we can advise appropriately and hopefully alleviate any concerns.’
The RCGP has written to the Department of Work and Pensions calling for ‘clarity’ over the working rights of those advised to shield as GPs are fielding queries over their entitlement to fit notes, he added.
He said: ‘Whether or not the shielding programme is being suspended, we need to know what to tell our patients up until the point it is – and in the case it is introduced again in the future.’
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey added that GPs must receive ‘clear’ and ‘timely’ information.
He said: ‘GP practices have undertaken a huge amount of work over the last few months to support their patients who are shielding and this continues to mean many additional consultations on a daily basis as practices try to respond to the concerns these patients and their families have.
‘That’s why it’s imperative that clear information is given to both patients and practices to both reduce the need for patients to contact their GP in the first place and also to provide practices with the necessary information to be able to advise patients when they do contact the practice.’
It comes as the deputy chief medical officer admitted that there had been a ‘hiccup’ in communications over shielded patients, when earlier this month patients were told out of the blue they could go outside.
In the latest GP webinar, NHS England director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said practices had been ‘inundated with calls from shielding patients’ over whether it was safe to do things such as going out to work or shopping.
She said: ‘I guess it’s more of an ask or plea from colleagues – can we make sure that [communications] and information are published to patients in a clear way so that they don’t always need to ask their GP?’
Dr Jenny Harries said she and Dr Kanani had had ‘a bit of a hiccup’ but that they ‘usually work very closely together’ and will ‘work on it’ in the next weeks.
She added that ‘getting the communications right’ is ‘probably the critical point going forward’, recognising that patients patients ‘will immediately turn to their GP for understanding and reassurance’.
The shielding programme has been riddled with issues, facing criticism from GPs over the sudden announcement that patients could go outside at the beginning of June.