I make absolutely no apologies for writing another blog on mixed messages. Last time it was the GPC, this time it’s NHSE, and if I obsessively keep blogging only about mixed messages, forever, then at least you’ll know where to come for messages with consistency.
So this time it’s about whether we can realistically be expected to continue to provide our usual range of primary care services. You know, while we have that niggly distraction of an immunisation programme the queues for which can be seen from space, particularly when we have 975 socially distanced patients kicking off outside the surgery entrance because the Ice-Vacc Van hasn’t arrived.
Because, in a letter from NHSE dated 9/11/20, we have: ‘Our shared ambition is for general practice to remain fully open and accessible to all patients’. And yet, in the same letter: ‘We also recognise that running a potential Covid-19 vaccination programme requires “all hands to the pump” and pragmatism’.
Let’s try to clarify things by looking at the Covid vaccination FAQs, released by NHSE on the same day. I say clarify. But I mean ‘further muddy’. Because it repeats the contradictory lines above but then throws in another confuser, referring to a £150M non-recurring fund to expand general capacity between now and March 2021. Note: ‘expand’.
Can you bear to look at another letter detailing that fund? Don’t worry. I’ve read it for you. It was dated, you guessed it, 9/11/20 – obviously a busy day at the NHS deskface. Here, at least, there is no vacillating. ‘Every possible measure should be taken by practices, PCNs and CCGs to maintain and expand general practice capacity, to address the continued needs of patients as practices respond to Covid-19, deal with the backlog of care, and improve services.’
Oh, OK. But don’t worry: there’s all that dosh. True, you can only access it if you guarantee you’re working at least to pre-Covid levels, you fulfil one of their seven arbitrary criteria (true example: spend it on oximeters) and you aren’t chilled by the sentence: ‘CCGs should not introduce overly burdensome administrative processes for PCNs and practices to secure support’ which obviously means the admin processes will be burdensome, but may not involve electrodes and genitals, but still… the £150m is… there. Kind of.
All of which means, if I take on the Covid vaccination programme, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be reprioritising services, maintaining them or expanding them – even after an hour of ploughing through the relevant documentation. Pity they didn’t arrive four days earlier.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/views/copperfield