Government advisors are warning that coronavirus is spreading again. If it continues at its current rate, they predict, we could be looking at 200 deaths a day by the middle of this month.
We haven’t experienced Covid in the winter, and it is a chilling thought. Ministers have rightly identified that we need a wider flu programme this year (although support for the practices tasked with carrying it out leaves a lot to be desired).
The BMA has – rightly – pointed out that winter pressures last all year now but, given the backlog of patients who did not present during the first lockdown, everything is pointing to a winter like no other.
GPs will be at the forefront. They will be the ones administering the flu vaccines. They will be the ones patients ask for help to distinguish the flu from Covid (unless the testing system works, ha ha). And they will be the ones to pick up the pieces as secondary care turns its attention back to Covid.
I feel that patients, being more used to Covid, will be less likely to stay away from the health service, and specifically already overburdened GP services. It is certain GPs will have to work above and beyond – and even further beyond than usual.
Looking ahead, if the chief medical officer is correct that we can expect a Covid vaccine in the first half of 2021, it will be great news but it will mean GPs dealing with one of the biggest public health programmes ever.
So, in order to get through whatever lies ahead, GPs’ goodwill – like that of the whole health service – is essential. But the NHS is doing its best to lose what little was left of it.
The press release from NHS England was boneheaded. Dr Martin Brunet makes some great points about how GPs shouldn’t take it too personally, but I can see this will be easier said than done.
Even those who have been doing everything required of them – namely the vast majority – have faced patients angry at the lack of face-to-face appointments. The headlines undermine patients’ trust in GPs when they are told it is clinically appropriate to consult remotely.
I know many GPs found the ‘clap for the NHS’ slightly cringeworthy. But sentiments seem to have swung the other way, not thanking but denigrating.
But far more than appreciative applause, GPs need practical support this winter, starting with a stripping back of all the non-essential work they do. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely to happen.
The three primary care networks specifications – including the dreaded enhanced care homes service – are continuing as normal, and the additional roles promised to general practice aren’t helping much either.
As if that wasn’t enough, the CQC has announced it is restarting inspections (though all will be forgiven if it concentrates its efforts on scrutinising the ‘inadequate’ test and trace system).
The NHS can get quick wins with an official apology for its misguided press release, and a commitment to freeze all contractual work that doesn’t directly benefit patient care. These are incredibly soft demands. They won’t be enough to get us through this winter. But they will at least be a start.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at email@example.com.