About a third of England’s lone GPs are at very high risk if they contract the COVID-19 virus, putting services at risk in many urban areas, according to an analysis published today.
The risk means that these GPs may need to avoid face to face consultations – despite recent advice from NHS England that they should undertake them, according to the Health Foundation analysis. The British Medical Association called for more support for these doctors and for clinical commissioning groups to assist them with locums able to meet patents.
Overall 8% of GPs are at high risk because of age and ethnicity, the Foundation found – and this rises to 32.7% among GPs who run practices singlehandedly. This could mean about 710,000 patients do not have access to face to face consultations if the doctors take steps to protect themselves from the virus, it says. The report finds that 639 practices – 9.4% of the total – are run by a single GP, serving more than 2.5 million people. It warns that doctors working as locums are also at high risk – 17% are at high risk.
The Foundation report suggests that CCGs should make arrangements to ensure these patients have access to safe appointments with GPs. GP Dr Rebecca Fisher, a research fellow with the Foundation, said: “The ongoing risk of COVID-19 to the safety of both patients and GPs means that hundreds of thousands of people may find it much harder to get a face-to-face GP appointment. It’s particularly worrying that GPs at higher risk from COVID-19 are far more likely to be working in areas of high deprivation. Those are precisely the areas with the greatest health need, the biggest burden from COVID-19, and an existing under-supply of GPs relative to need. Unless urgent action is taken this could become another way in which poorer communities become further disadvantaged, and risks further widening health inequalities.”
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “This research not only highlights the need for more GPs in the system, especially in deprived areas, as well as the continued provision of effective personal protective equipment, but also free access to comprehensive occupational health services to support clinicians with risk assessments. Patients should not be left to worry about being unable to see their doctor in person, but neither should GPs be put at risk or feel unsafe. Following significant pressure by the BMA the Government has finally released funding to support the additional costs of responding to the pandemic for general practice, but we now need CCGs to provide the necessary support to those working in isolation, both for their own health and that of their patients.”