GPs should be freed up to focus on speeding up the Covid booster jab campaign in response to the new Omicron variant of concern, GP leaders have said.
The news comes as the Government said it has tasked the JCVI with drawing up new advice on an expanded and more extensive booster jab campaign.
Currently, vulnerable patients and adults over the age of 40 can book their booster jab.
Former BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said on Twitter that GPs ‘should be urgently freed up to focus on the patients who need them most’ and ‘step up delivery of [Covid vaccine] to quickly protect as many as possible from [Omicron]’.
He added that it was ‘time’ for NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care to ‘trust and support practices and suspend QOF micromanagement’.
In response, new GPC chair Dr Farah Jameel said that ‘time sensitive decisions must be made’ and that she has ‘written to NHS England’.
Dr Jameel said: ‘I have written to NHS England and Improvement to offer the full support and force of general practice in the face of an evolving threat to the nation.
‘GPs and their teams, alongside all healthcare workers, will be extremely concerned to learn about the arrival of a new, more transmissible variant of Covid-19 in the UK, and the potential impact it may have on the public at a time when health services are already under unsustainable pressure.
‘The workforce will understandably be turning to how they can look after and care for patients who need them most while also protecting staff’s safety.
‘General practice will, as it has done throughout the pandemic, step up to prioritise their patients in the face of new challenges, but GP teams, many of whom are exhausted and demoralised 20 months into the pandemic, will in turn need substantial support.
‘I have asked to meet with NHSEI, on behalf of GPs, to explore how doctors and their teams can be supported in the coming weeks and months.’
Meanwhile, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul welcomed the Government’s new regulations on mask wearing in shops and on public transport, but said they should be expanded to ‘all public indoor and closed settings’, including the hospitality industry.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘This addition to Government measures will have minimal economic and social impact, but rather evidence tells us that it will help to further reduce the spread of the virus.
‘We only have a small window of opportunity to get this right to ensure that we don’t lose control of this new variant, which has the potential to have a devastating impact on the health service. The Government must act now, or we risk seeing even more unnecessary deaths.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday: ‘We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron, but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection.
‘And if you are boosted – your response is likely to be stronger. So it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs, and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible.
‘So from today we are going to boost the booster campaign. We are already planning to do 6 million jabs in England alone over the next three weeks.
‘And now we are looking to go further, so the Health Secretary has asked the JCVI to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible, as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster.’
So far, nine Omicron cases have been identified in the UK, including six in Scotland.
A number of countries in southern Africa were added to the UK’s travel red list over the past few days in response to the variant discovery.
And GPs have been asked to take special measures upon learning patients have returned from any of the countries, including ordering PCR tests and isolating anyone with Covid symptoms in a side room.