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Health minister says GPs can safely ‘recommence’ face-to-face services wearing PPE

Health minister says GPs can safely ‘recommence’ face-to-face services wearing PPE
By Costanza Pearce
15 October 2020

GPs can safely ‘recommence’ face-to-face services in a ‘regular’ manner whilst wearing PPE, a health minister has suggested.

The comments come amid recent controversy over whether GP practices have been ‘open’ to the public, and despite ongoing NHS England advice to remotely triage all patients whilst the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing.

GPs said the latest comment shows ‘a complete disconnect’ and a ‘lack of understanding of what actually goes on in primary care’.

Primary care minister Jo Churchill made the comment in response to a written parliamentary question from Conservative MP Matt Vickers.

Mr Vickers asked the health secretary ‘what assessment his department has made of the safety of face-to-face GP surgery appointments as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased’.

In response, Ms Churchill said: ‘The Government and the devolved administrations have published clear guidance on appropriate personal protective equipment for health and social care workers, including GPs.  

‘The guidance is consistent with World Health Organisation guidance for protecting health and social care workers from Covid-19 and should allow the safe recommencement of regular face-to-face GP appointments.’

Ms Churchill also noted NHS England’s recent ‘reminder’ to GPs to see patients face to face.

She added: ‘On 31 August, NHS England issued guidance stating that GP practices must offer face-to-face appointments at surgeries and continue to use remote triage, video, online and telephone consultations where appropriate – whilst also considering those unable to access or engage with digital services.’

Watford GP partner Simon Hodes said the comments give ‘mixed messages’ to the public and are ‘insulting’ to the profession.

He said: ‘For a health minister to say restart seeing patients just shows a complete disconnect and lack of understanding of what actually goes on in primary care.

‘How can we restart something that has been ongoing?’

Dr Hodes added: ‘It’s just insulting to hear that because we’ve been there from day one seeing patients in pretty dubious PPE. 

‘Many of us went and bought higher grade PPE over and above that issued by Public Health England or NHS England to protect ourselves, but we’ve been there trying to offer a service to our patients.’

And what GPs have purchased ‘for their own peace of mind’ above the ‘very basic’ rations that GPs have been provided with has ‘certainly not been refunded’, he said.

The Government’s PPE provision has come under fire from GPs throughout the pandemic, with Healthcare Leader’s sister title, Pulse, revealing last week that the emergency PPE phoneline declined 70% of requests placed by GPs up until August.

NHS England landed itself in hot water with GPs last month after it issued a press release to national newspapers suggesting GPs were not offering face-to-face appointments where necessary.

The BMA demanded NHS England issue a correction after practice staff faced abuse from patients – while NHS England’s medical director for primary care tweeted an apology for the ‘hurt’ caused.

Meanwhile, the chief medical officer recently urged patients to visit their GP in a live briefing.

And Londonwide LMCs have launched a new social media video campaign, highlighting that GP practices are open and seeing patients with cancer symptoms, using the hashtag #GPsareopen.

A version of this story first appeared on our sister title Pulse.

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