NHS England is working on plans to help manage growing GP workload in a way that will also ‘make sense to patients, its primary care director has signalled.
In a webinar on Thursday evening, Dr Nikki Kanani said NHS England will soon publish an updated standard operating procedure to help practices ‘open up in the right way and safely’ as Covid restrictions continue to ease.
The promises come as Dr Kanani also penned an open letter in the Telegraph on Friday, defending GPs against claims that practices have been closed to patients during the pandemic.
In the webinar, Dr Kanani GPs admitted to GPs that there will be ‘a big hill for us to climb over the coming months’ as lockdown eases and ‘people will start coming forward.
She said: ‘I think we’re already seeing it in general practice particularly where people have sat on things for the last year and are coming forward and we are definitely feeling that.’
Again acknowledging ‘the pressure’ practices have been working under, she added: ‘We are trying to understand what we can do to support, to make sure that we continue to deliver services in a sustainable way for practices but also in a way that makes sense for patients as well.
‘We know that we can see things on both sides of the fence.’
According to Dr Kanani, NHS England’s plan is ‘to help make sure that patients get the care they need and you are supported in offering it’.
The news comes recent data revealed GPs saw more patients in March than in any other month since records began with the BMA saying this validates GP warnings that they are busier than ever.
NHS England’s webinar also raised GPs’ concern at a long-running narrative in mainstream media that GP practices have been ‘closed’ to patients during the pandemic.
Dr Kanani told GPs that NHS England has a ‘wider communications and media plan to help mythbust that awful line [that] general practice is not open’.
Putting this in practice, Dr Kanani today had an open letter to the editor published in the Telegraph, refuting claims by columnist Alison Pearson that non-Covid appointments have not been available to patients.
She wrote: ‘The NHS is not, nor has it ever been, a Covid-only service. GP appointments have been available throughout the pandemic.’
She went onto argue that ‘it was right, to cut the chances of catching Covid and protect our patients and workforce, that some NHS appointments had to take place online’.
But she added that ‘appointments continued to be conducted in person and patients who need to see a doctor face-to-face should always be given this option’.
Her letter said: ‘Everyone working in primary care remains committed to ensuring face-to-face appointments continue to be offered. They are at the heart of what we do.’
And in September, NHS England landed itself in hot water with a previous ‘reminder’ to practices to offer face-to-face consultations despite the ongoing pandemic and its own ‘total triage’ advice.
In November, Dr Kanani promised delegates at Pulse Live that NHSE ‘can and will do more’ to tell the public GP practices are open. Meanwhile, NHS England said last month that GPs should continue to triage patients remotely and there are currently no plans for when the approach will end.