In March, I didn’t have the heart to contradict friends who thought we would be back to ‘normal’ by the end of 2020. My suspicion was that you could add a year to that, and it would still be optimistic.
That may still be true. But despite the horrible increase in infections over the new year, I’m feeling more optimistic about the exit plan than at any time since February 2020. And at the start of the new year, it feels right to take a step back and reflect.
The most obvious positive is the vaccine. If you’d told me in March that a safe and effective vaccine would be developed and the NHS reconfigured to focus on rolling it out by Christmas, I would have concluded you were a graduate of the Boris Johnson School of Honesty.
But not only has this happened, but there are already two onstream. GPs have acted impeccably to set up PCN groupings. Having taken my two elderly parents to get vaccinated on New Year’s Eve, I was in awe of how efficient t was (shout out to the Caversham Group Practice, if anyone is reading!)
GPs have shifted services to accommodate the biggest public health programme of all time in this country. They have been patiently explaining the importance of the vaccine to patients, and dealing with their numerous and understandable questions and concerns. That they are also having to cancel pre-booked appointments. That they can do so just shows how flexible they – and the independent contractor status – are.
Equally as important, they have highlighted the problems, most crucially the question of how practices can continue all their other work alongside the vaccine rollout. We’ve already seen some PCN groupings forced to opt out because their premises could not accommodate the 15-minute post-jab observation period necessitated by adverse reactions in two healthcare workers who had received the Pfizer vaccine.
And GPs have rightly pointed out that the item-of-service fee for the work will leave many providing it at a loss. If the Government can pump billions into a risky, and ultimately failing, Test and Trace system, why can’t it stump up adequate funding for trusted, experienced professionals to deliver a vaccination programme of historic importance? Scrimping on the IoS fee is a false economy, and will inhibit GPs’ ability to provide the best patient care during and after this programme.
Plus, inevitably, we have had problems with vaccine delivery delays, as well as confusion around which wave PCN sites are in.
I don’t envy GPs the months ahead. They will be gruelling, even with the Oxford vaccine approved. (Of course, Pulse will be with you every step of the way, supporting you.)
But the fact we are discussing these problems is miraculous in itself. Positivity can be a bit thin on the ground in general practice, and especially after what has happened over Christmas.
But let us not lose sight of the fact that there being vaccination programme is a huge positive in itself. It may not be enough to remind GPs why they went into medicine or to reverse the drain of GPs from the NHS. But I hope you do get the chance to step back and appreciate your role in history, and what can happen when science, the NHS and frontline healthcare staff come together.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at email@example.com. A version of this was originally published in the January 2021 issue.