GP practices are struggling with Covid staff absences, with a survey indicating that 95% are experiencing much higher levels of staff off sick than usual.
A snapshot survey by the RCGP sent out to 200 GP leaders on 21 December also found 14% of clinical staff and 17% non-clinical staff are currently off sick.
Some 13% of practices reported having 40-60% of their staff off sick overall, and RCGP vice chair Dr Gary Howsam said the shortages were not being felt ‘evenly across practices’.
‘The lack of availability of staff and the lack of locum staff to fill those gaps are the things people have been highlighting in the last 24 hours,’ Dr Howsam added.
The BMA’s GPC England bulletin sent at the end of last year said that the ‘rising numbers of staff sickness rates’ caused by the Omicron variant ‘has the potential to significantly impact the delivery of general practice’.
Chief executive of Cambridgeshire LMC and GP Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer told Pulse she has been aware ‘for months’ of increased GP Covid-related absences.
‘Staff shortages have been really significant for a long time,’ she said.
Dr Bramall-Stainer said the reduced self-isolation period for Covid positive cases from 10 days to seven in England, subject to negative LFT results, has helped ‘to a certain extent’, but ‘Omicron’s transmissibility is so strong that the numbers involved are so huge, [and] it’s still having an impact on staffing at all levels.
‘I think, perhaps, it’s not as worse as some people feared. I think there were some discussions around London acute trust that were going to be estimating a 20% loss of workforce. And we can think back to Chris Whitley at the podium saying holes are going to be blown in rotas. I’m not sure it has been that bad.’
She added that GP absence rates are ‘certainly creeping around the 10% margin’, which is ‘enough to create a pretty devastating set of circumstances’.
‘The challenge, as ever, for general practice is getting that data.’
Without discrete data around GP workforce, Dr Bramall-Stainer said it is ‘very difficult to argue the collective case’ at a ‘local, regional or national level’.
She added: ‘There needs to be better, more granular data around GP workforce and I think we need to find ways to enable our systems to match up to gather that data.’
Gloucestershire GP partner Dr Mark Porter said his practice had 10% of staff off and is ‘struggling to cope’ as a result.
Meanwhile, the number of hospital staff off with Covid has shot up in the past two weeks, according to a warning from NHS Providers.
It comes as GPs told Pulse of buying their own higher grade PPE to protect staff as the Omicron Covid variant began sweeping over the country last month.
GPs and staff can now return to work on day 8 after testing positive for Covid, if they have tested negative on a lateral flow test 24 hours apart on day 6 and 7. They should continue to test on day 8, 9 and 10.
It comes as GPs have reported struggling to access Covid tests, although NHS England has told practices they can now access a ‘contingency’ supply of LFTs.
The UK reported a record number of over 200,000 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, although this included some tests taken during the New Year bank holiday.