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How might COVID-19 affect the number of GPs available to see patients in England?

COVID-19 Pandemics General practice Health practitioners England

As the NHS shifts to the ‘second phase’ of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, general practice has to learn to work alongside the virus. For a service widely considered to be the ‘front door’ of the NHS, this is a challenge. Strategies already in use are likely to be maintained, including seeing patients with suspected COVID-19 at separate sites (so called ‘hot hubs’), and using telephone and video consulting to reduce face-to-face contact where possible. But these can only go so far. The number of patients requiring face-to-face consultations is likely to creep up over time (as examinations and tests can no longer be deferred), and with this comes the potential for greater exposure of GPs to COVID-19.

Key points:

  • In England, many GP practices have shifted to a ‘telephone first’ approach to providing patient care. But some people need face-to-face consultations for specific health problems, and all patients should have access to face-to-face consultations if clinically necessary to provide good care.
  • GPs at very high risk of death from COVID-19 are more likely to be working in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation.
  • Almost one in ten GP practices (9.4% or 639 out of 6,771) are run by a single GP. These practices serve 2,497,159 patients and are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 related disruption should the single-handed GP fall ill or die of COVID-19.
  • There is a timely opportunity to provide additional support to keep GPs and patients safe. CCGs must ensure that they are aware of gaps in face-to-face provision of core general practice services, and must work with practices and primary care networks to find solutions.
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