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Routine GP requirements to be relaxed amid ‘significant’ coronavirus epidemic

Expectations on routine GP services will be relaxed if the spread of coronavirus becomes a ‘significant epidemic’ in the UK, the chief medical officers have said.

In a letter to doctors, the CMOs of all four UK countries said they ‘expect employers, educational supervisors, professional bodies, and national NHS and HSC organisations to be flexible in terms of their approach and the expectations of routine requirement’ in the face of such a crisis.

The letter also said a significant epidemic ‘will require healthcare professionals to be flexible in what they do’.

‘It may entail working in unfamiliar circumstances or surroundings, or working in clinical areas outside of their usual practice for the benefit of patients and the population as a whole.’

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘As the number of cases of Covid-19 increases significantly nationwide in the way it is expected to, it is likely that demand on GP practices will grow.

‘GPs will need to be able to prioritise their time to care for those who need their expertise most which will mean reducing or stopping other more routine work.’

Speaking to BBC News earlier in the week, Dr Vautrey said this would include routine checks for blood pressure, heart disease and lung disease.

In an information note to GP practices earlier this week, NHS England said it is ‘reviewing current GP services in preparation for any need to release capacity’.

The note said: ‘We are taking steps to review the broad spectrum of current GP services to assess how additional capacity might be released if required. Similar work is also taking place across the other primary care professions.

‘Further information will follow in due course should such steps need to be taken.’

But Pulse has heard from GP practices in Glasgow, Manchester, Norfolk, St Albans and Oxfordshire which have already stopped conducting routine appointments. 

This comes as GP practices are being forced to draw up their own emergency plans amid confusion over NHS England advice regarding how to examine and treat patients with respiratory illness.

The CMOs’ letter also reiterated the GMC’s reassurance that fitness-to-practise complaints relating to doctors during the epidemic will be viewed in context.

They said: ‘We need to stick to the basic principles of being a good doctor. All doctors are expected to follow GMC guidance and use their judgement in applying the principles to the situations they face, but these rightly take account of the realities of a very abnormal emergency situation.’

Meanwhile, primary care minister Jo Chuchill has said that discussions are underway in the Department of Health and Social Care to free up GPs to deal with the coronavirus crisis by removing ‘all appropriate bureaucracy’.

GP leaders and cardiovascular experts have called for the suspension of QOF and health checks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to chair a Cobra meeting regarding the coronavirus today, which could see the UK’s response to the emergency escalated.