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Covid-19: “Exhausted” GPs need more support for future crises, says leader

BMJ 2021; 373 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n1206 (Published 11 May 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;373:n1206
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The government must provide “real and meaningful support” to help general practice recover from the covid-19 pandemic and ensure it is better prepared for future crises, the UK’s GP leader has urged.

In a speech to GPs from across the four UK nations at the virtual annual conference of local medical committees on 11 May, Richard Vautrey, the chair of the BMA’s UK General Practitioners Committee, said that the past 14 months had tested “every GP team and individual like never before.”

He said, “It has been a hard and difficult time that has left many physically exhausted and mentally drained. But it has shown the profession at its best. We have responded to this unprecedented situation, and we have risen to and met the challenge.”

But Vautrey said the workforce and workload pressures in general practice that existed well before 2020 had been exacerbated by the pandemic. To remedy the situation, he urged governments across the UK to invest in staff, premises, and retention of more GPs.

“We began this pandemic badly weakened for what was to come by a decade of underinvestment,” he said. “We don’t just need short term fixes but a long term commitment to investment and development of general practice, to properly redress the years that have left us as we are. We cannot allow another crisis to hit us without being better prepared.”

The speech came in the same week that the NHS Confederation published a policy paper highlighting the need to restore primary care through investment, clear national priorities, and new mechanisms to measure workload.1

Vautrey drew attention to recent NHS Digital figures showing that practices in England delivered almost three million more appointments in March 2021 than in March 2019,2 but he said that this number “only tells part of the story.”

“It fails to show the complexity of what we deal with each day. It fails to show the additional activity, the growing number of prescriptions reviewed and signed, the large amount of investigations processed. It fails to recognise the intensity and pressure on our reception staff dealing with huge numbers of telephone calls and the rapidly growing number of e-consult requests.

“It fails to recognise the shifted work and the need to manage far more patients waiting for procedures or appointments as general practice is impacted by the serious backlog in work in secondary care and elsewhere in the system. And it fails to show the bureaucracy that we and our practice managers still have to contend with but which somehow alongside everything else we manage.”

Vautrey also paid tribute to general practices for their part in delivering the covid-19 vaccination campaign. “The remarkable achievement of delivering the covid vaccination programme so quickly and effectively despite all the challenges and difficulties, and after also delivering the biggest ever flu vaccine campaign, is down to the dedication and hard work of so many people in general practice,” he said.

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