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Some GP practices providing ‘urgent-only’ service due to increasing staff shortages

GPs extend 'urgent-only' service as majority say care hit by staff shortages

Covid pressures are forcing GPs to provide ‘urgent-only’ services in two areas, while a BMA survey revealed that almost 70% of GPs have seen staff shortages affect patient care.

NHS Derby and Derbyshire CCG announced this week that GP practices in the area will be operating an ‘urgent-only’ service for ‘at least the remainder of January due to staff absences’.

In a statement, the local ICS said that the Omicron variant has led to 30% of GP staff currently being absent from work, amid a ‘noticeable increase’ in non-urgent requests coming to practices since the New Year.

It said: ‘General practice is alerting system partners and patients to a temporary restriction of service due to a high number of staff absences. Practices will be operating an urgent-only service for patients for at least the remainder of January due to staffing shortages.’

It added: ‘Along with all other services, general practice has seen a significant reduction in workforce due to staff isolation from the Omicron variant, with currently 30% of staff absent from work.  

‘General practice has now switched from an urgent-only service due to the need to vaccinate, to an urgent-only service because that is all there is the capacity to provide.’

Practices are asking patients to only make contact for ‘urgent needs’ until ‘at least’ the end of the month – such as concerns about possible infections or symptoms that may suggest cancer – while they should seek help for non-urgent issues from local pharmacies or NHS 111, it said.

Meanwhile, GPs in Lanarkshire are facing similar measures amid rising Covid pressures in Scotland.

NHS Lanarkshire yesterday said that GP practices had moved to a ‘managed suspension of services’, due to stay in place for four weeks.

The health board said in a statement: ‘Due to sustained pressure, record Covid-19 numbers and ongoing staff sickness absence, NHS Lanarkshire has asked GP practices to prioritise urgent care to help keep our health services safe.

‘From Tuesday 11 January for four weeks, all local GP practices moved to a managed suspension of services which means they will focus on the most urgent and time-critical care. This includes the assessment of people with respiratory or Covid-19 symptoms, along with providing a range of other services.’

Lanarkshire GP sub-committee chair Dr Keith McIntyre added that services provided will vary between local practices ‘depending on their individual circumstances’ but stressed that GPs ‘will continue to see patients in-person as and when it is appropriate’. 

It comes as BMA data exclusively shared with Pulse showed that almost 70% of GPs have reported seeing patient care impacted by staff absences in the past two weeks.

Responding to a BMA survey that closed on Friday last week, 87% of more than 2,300 UK GPs reported that they had clinical colleagues on sick leave or self-isolating within the past two weeks.

Almost a third (31%) said this had a ‘significant impact on patient care’ and 37% said it had a ‘moderate’ impact, while 19% said this was manageable.

A fifth said they had personally had to self-isolate from work due to Covid during the past fortnight.

The data, seen by Pulse, also revealed:

  • 99% of GP respondents were ‘concerned’ about Omicron negatively impacting staffing levels at their workplace, with 42% saying they were ‘extremely concerned’;
  • 95% were either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ concerned about Omicron’s negative impact on the ability to reduce delays for elective or non-urgent care, investigations, procedures and treatments;
  • fewer than half (46%) were ‘always’ able to access lateral flow tests when needed within the past three weeks

BMA GP Committee England chair Dr Farah Jameel said GPs responding to the survey were ‘all-but unanimous in expressing their concern around the new variant’s devastating effect on staffing’.

She told Pulse: ‘These survey findings highlight the sheer scale of impact that the latest surge in Covid-19 infections has had on practices, the workforce and their very ability to provide patients with the care they need.’

Dr Jameel added: ‘With such a high number of staff off work within general practice and across health care services, the implication for patients is stark.

‘Losing more doctors to Covid-19 sickness as we’ve seen in recent weeks means already exhausted colleagues [are] stretching themselves until they break – compromising safety for themselves and their patients.’

She reiterated the BMA’s calls for higher grade PPE for GPs, a pandemic recovery plan to address the care backlog and a new workforce strategy.

The BMA released the survey data for doctors across all specialities over the weekend, which showed that one in five doctors (21%) out of 6,000 had to self-isolate in the past two weeks.

A similar survey carried out by the RCGP last month also found GP practices struggling with Covid staff absences, suggesting that 95% were experiencing much higher levels of staff off sick than usual.

Meanwhile, GPs have been asked to report staff absences through a new Covid absence tracker that was due to launch this week.

Additional reporting by Costanza Potter

BMA GP snap survey results

Since the emergence of the Omicron variant, how if at all, has this impacted on any delays to elective or non-urgent medical care, investigations, procedures and treatments at your place of work? (2,228 responded)

  • Delays decreased slightly – 1%
  • Delays decreased significantly – 4%
  • There has been no change – 11%
  • Delays increased slightly – 29%
  • Delays increased significantly – 37%
  • Don’t know – 12%
  • Not relevant – 6%

Within the last two weeks, have you personally had to remove and self-isolate yourself from work because of Covid? (2,296 responded)

• Yes – 20%
• No – 80%

Have any clinical colleagues in your department/team/practice been on sick leave or are self-isolating within the last two weeks? (2,306 responded)

• Yes – with significant impact on patient care – 31%
• Yes – with moderate impact on patient care – 37%
• Yes – but able to manage impact – 19%
• No – 9%
• Don’t know – 5%

Within the last three weeks, have you been able to access lateral flow tests (LFTs) when needed? (2,289 responded)

• Yes – always – 46%
• Yes – most of the time – 27%
• Yes – sometimes – 17%
• Yes – but very rarely – 6%
• No – never – 3%
• Not applicable – 2%

To what extent are you concerned that the emergence of the Omicron variant may negatively impact…

  • Staffing levels in your place of work – <1% said they were not at all concerned, 15% said slightly concerned, 42% said very concerned, 42% said they were extremely concerned, and <1% said they don’t know. (2,205 responded)
  • The NHS’ ability to reduce delays and waiting lists for elective or non-urgent medical care, investigations, procedures and treatments – <1% said they were not all concerned, 5% said slightly concerned, 30% said very concerned, 65% said they were extremely concerned, and <1% said they don’t know. (2,227 responded)
  • The NHS’ ability to deliver urgent and acute care to non-Covid patients – 1% said they were not at all concerned, 11% said slightly concerned, 33% said very concerned, 55% said they were extremely concerned, and <1% said they don’t know. (2,230 responded)

Source: BMA data exclusively shared with Pulse


Patrufini Duffy 14 January, 2022 3:13 pm

Yes, its very very hard prioritising the panic attack after splitting up with the boyfriend, the cold sore on the mouth after a binge and runners knee because the dog is tugging you too much. Tricky to say two weeks to the person demanding a housing letter, and 3 weeks for the patient who is only tired on a Monday and Tuesday. Hard times having to actually ration care to talk to a specialist with some decent credentials, but that is the current postcode lottery of sticky plasters and nannying floating around, a roulette wheel, hoping that your time is spent not explaining the trivia which arises from boredom, and ineptitude but on medicine worthy of a meaningful interaction, and not some deliveroo type want and impulsion.

Robert James Andrew Mackenzie Koefman 14 January, 2022 4:13 pm

Just a normal day in practice these days.

Dylan Summers 15 January, 2022 8:52 am

Clearly an ideal time to remove any unvaccinated staff from direct patient care.