The pandemic is not over and the next few months will be tough

11 September 2020

I think we can safely say the summer is over. It’s probably been unlike any summer any of us have experienced before - indeed 2020 has been a year like no other for most of us. The NHS has been tested to its limits and general practice has played a vital role in keeping patients safe and ensuring the health service hasn’t become overwhelmed. Research published in the BJGP this week has shown just how large a role GPs have played delivering care to patients with COVID, in the absence of available testing in the community and when attention was almost solely on the pressures in secondary care.

The vast majority of patients have still been cared for in general practice, albeit differently than usual in most cases. General practice has been open throughout and while we saw a slump in routine appointments at the peak of the pandemic, you were hard at work supporting other areas of the health service and identifying and providing specialist advice and services for shielding patients. Now, our data has shown routine appointments to be at near-normal levels.

The pandemic is not over and the next few months will be tough. I said repeatedly before the pandemic that workload in general practice was 'undoable' and this winter I’m concerned it will be worse, and about the implications of this for patients and for staff.

I have found the way GPs and our teams have adapted to new ways of working to be remarkable - and how you have stepped up to challenge after challenge in your stride, the latest being the responsibility of delivering the largest, and potentially most complicated, flu vaccination programme in history.

From the College’s point of view, we will continue to advocate on your behalf: for the support you and your teams need to meet the challenges that lie ahead; for appreciation of the incredible work you do for patients and the wider NHS; for workload and workforce issues to be addressed once and for all.

There are so many conversations to be had about what post-pandemic general practice will look like, how our roles will change and how patients will access our services. In the meantime, you’re just getting on with it. Thank you.

Latest updates from your College

Congratulations to our new Council members

I’ve just received news of our RCGP Council election results and I’m delighted to welcome Aarti Bansal, Clare Gerada, Margaret Ikpoh, Ginika Ilechukwu, Omon Imohi and Sonali Kinra to College Council from November. The six successful candidates will sit for a three-year term - and I look forward to working with each of them and hearing their views. Thank you to those whose term ends in November and are stepping down – your contribution to the College has been invaluable.

We had 30 people put themselves forward this year - the most I can remember, and the most diverse group of GPs I can remember, as well. Thank you all so much for putting yourselves forward.

College takes action on climate change

With COVID-19 at the forefront of our minds, it is important not to overlook another very real threat to global health - the climate and ecological emergency.

Yesterday, the UK’s Climate Assembly published its report, The path to net zero. Which sets out a clear, internally consistent and timely path for reaching the UK's target of net zero emissions by 2050.

The College was the first Medical Royal College to divest from fossil fuels and we are a founder member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change,

On Friday 2 October, I will be speaking at a free lunchtime webinar about the RCGP’s 2020/21 Climate Emergency Delivery Plan. It launches version 7 (2020/21) of the RCGP Green Impact for Health toolkit for greener general practice. This is a path to net zero carbon emissions for general practices. It is a practical and free of charge resource which outlines more than 100 actions that GP practices can take towards environmental sustainability. In addition, Karen Creffield, Practice Manager at Frome Medical Practice (the overall winner of the 2019/20 Green Impact for Health awards) will talk about the practical benefits for her practice, and Richard Smith will also talk in more detail about the work of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC). Follow UKHACC on Twitter.

There are now 754 practices registered with Green Impact for Health (roughly 8% of UK practices) and this year 68 of these made submissions for awards. The College is keen for as many practices as possible to register with this toolkit and take positive steps towards environmental sustainability.  

Details and booking information for the webinar are available.

This is one of a series run by Greener Practice in collaboration with the College’s South Yorkshire and North Trent Faculty (SYNT). Greener Practice is a network which aims to support GP practices to take action on the climate crisis for the health of patients and the planet. Their website acts as a 'one-stop shop' for GPs wishing to become 'greener', with links to information, resources, other like-minded organisations and practical tools, including the green impact audit for health. Follow them on Twitter.

Huge thanks to Terry Kemple, our former President, who is leading our important work in this area, alongside Aarti Bansal from SYNT Faculty, as well as to Gary Howsam, Vice Chair for External Affairs, who is the Officer and RCGP Council lead for his commitment to ensuring that climate change remains at the centre of what we do as a College.

Calling for GP support on 'long COVID'

Not yet having clear guidance to help patients with so-called 'long COVID' is frustrating for GPs and we continue to be grateful for our patients’ understanding that COVID-19 is a new virus, and current information and understanding of the condition and how it can best be treated is limited.

I recently raised these points as part of an interview with Radio 4’s File on 4, which investigated the long-term health effects of the COVID-19 virus. I discussed the need for a network of long COVID clinics in the community, that GPs can easily refer patients to, as well as the rapid development of research and guidance to support GPs deliver care. The programme’s broadcast led to a huge amount of national media coverage including BBC Online, ITV News, The Independent, The Guardian, and Daily Mail, as well as being used on BBC News bulletins on programmes such as BBC Breakfast and BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. I was also interviewed on the BBC News Channel.

The College is currently working to produce guidance to support GPs manage this new condition, and we will be publishing two eLearning modules on long COVID in the next couple of weeks, so please make sure to look out for them.

'Spring' General Meeting

The College’s Spring General Meeting, due to be held in May but postponed due to COVID-19 will now take place next Friday 18 September 2020 at 09:00.

For the first time, it will be held virtually, chaired by our President Professor Amanda Howe, and will cover business items, such as the approval of Fellows and Honorary Fellows and minor amendments to College Byelaws, only.

While we won’t have a lecture at the SGM this year, following the business items we look forward to welcoming a new cohort of Fellows to the College. We hope to celebrate their achievements in presentation ceremonies once restrictions due to COVID-19 are lifted.

If you would like to join the virtual SGM, please register in advance (you will need your Membership number).

Launch of the Personalised Care Institute

Next Tuesday 15 September, the College will launch the Personalised Care Institute (PCI) - a virtual organisation promoting evidence-based, personalised care training to all health and care professionals. A standalone entity, the PCI is being convened by the College and funded by NHS England and Improvement. It’s currently supported by more than 40 partners, including other Royal Colleges.

The PCI, which I have the privilege of chairing, has developed a curriculum that sets the standards for evidence-based personalised care training, and will be a 'one stop shop' for health and care professionals to access accredited training and development. As GPs, we know that offering care that suits patients' individual needs and expectations has numerous patient benefits, including an increased likelihood that they’ll live longer, so the College is incredibly proud to be involved.

The launch itself will be virtual, involving a number of speakers - including Minister for Primary Care Jo Churchill - and a panel discussion followed by a Q&A session. We hope that all health and care professionals will find this virtual hub useful and that it will help users to attain professional development goals, which in turn can make a significant difference to our patients.

Parkrun to return

Finally, we’ve heard some encouraging news from parkrun UK, our partners in the parkrun practice initiative, encouraging practices to link to local parkruns, which they can in turn recommend to their patients.

Parkrun events have been suspended since lockdown started in March, but since then they have been looking at how and when to resume parkrun events in a safe and appropriate way. They have now been given approval by the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport and others to resume events by the end of October - exact date to be confirmed - and this should not be impacted by this week’s announcement about only being able to meet with groups of six people.

Discussions are still underway with the government authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Post written by

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of RCGP Council

Professor Martin Marshall is Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a GP in Newham, East London. He is also Professor of Healthcare Improvement at UCL in the Department of Primary Care and Population Health. Previously he was Programme Director for Population Health and Primary Care at UCLPartners (2014-2019), Director of Research & Development at the Health Foundation (2007-2012), Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England and Director General in the Department of Health (2006-2007), Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester (2000-2006) and a Harkness Fellow in Healthcare Policy. 

He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London and of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and was a non-executive director of the Care Quality Commission until 2012. He has advised governments in Singapore, Egypt, Canada and New Zealand, has over 230 publications in the field of quality improvement and health service redesign and his primary academic interest is in maximising the impact of research on practice. In 2005 he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to Health Care. 

A co-founder and driving force of the Rethinking Medicine movement, Martin has a passionate commitment to the values of the NHS, patient care and ensuring the GP voice is central in a time of great change. When he’s not working, he likes being outside, preferably on a mountain or a coastal path with his wife Sue and their puppy. 

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