Another call to arms as Omicron takes hold

17 December 2021

So, another call to arms as Omicron takes hold.

Requests for general practice teams to go the extra mile – again - are more credible when they come from fellow clinicians than politicians. Trust is important. That’s why Chris Whitty and I wrote a joint letter to College members in England last weekend, laying out the case for prioritising jabbing over non-urgent general practice for the next few weeks.

It’s a tough ask, particularly as workload explodes and omicron spreads like wildfire, forcing a growing number of practice staff into isolation. We’re developing workload prioritisation guidance with the BMA which we plan to publish early next week. We’ve also developed business continuity guidance, which will be available via our Covid Resource Hub shortly, and hope these resources will help you with the difficult decisions you have to make over the coming weeks. And we know that clinical and non-clinical volunteers, including the amazing members of the College’s Late Careers and Retired Members Group, will play their part as they did this time last year.

I’m confident that every practice will contribute to the national vaccination effort if they possibly can, drawing on their learning from the last year – the need for efficient support from the system, clear communications and the space to do what’s needed.

The next few weeks when we’re on a war footing will be hard but the rest of the winter and early spring will be harder. The work that we aren’t able to do in the next few weeks won’t go away. It will return, exacerbated, to be dealt with by an even more fatigued and probably smaller workforce. And none of us are naïve, we know that praise for our vaccination effort will be short lived and that criticisms will re-surface from people who don’t understand the pressures that general practice is working under, nor the need to prioritise.

But we and our teams will still do the right thing, emboldened by Chris Whitty’s explicit support for the hard decisions that we are having to make. And it’s encouraging to see some NHS leaders and politicians at last explicitly recognising what general practice is doing. Rest assured, the College will remind them of their kind words when the booster campaign is over.

Latest updates from your College

Booster campaign update

You certainly are rising to the challenge that has been set and felt insurmountable on Sunday following the Prime Minister’s address. More than 745,000 jabs were delivered on Wednesday and the projection is that by weekend more than a million vaccinations will be being delivered a day. Every one of those jabs is a patient better protected from Covid. Well done.

I was interviewed live on Good Morning Britain, Radio 4’s World Tonight, and Times Radio - and Vice Chair Michael Mulholland spoke to BBC 5 Live - about the important role of general practice in the roll out, and the types of care that will continue to be prioritised during it.

As mentioned above, we have been in discussions with the BMA, NHS England and Improvement and DHSC about how to support general practice over the coming weeks. The RCGP and BMA were asked by NHSE to produce clinical workload prioritisation guidance to help practices in their planning. This is something we did towards the start of the pandemic and know from your feedback that you found it useful. We hope we will be able to publish the latest version early next week and will update members as soon as possible.

Alongside this, the Government has announced a set of changes to requirements placed on general practice with the aim of reducing other workload pressures. The details of which can be found in today's Primary Care Bulletin from NHSE.

We recognise these will not solve the immense workload pressures facing general practice, but we are encouraged that government departments are listening to our concerns and taking steps to flex the system to allow clinical staff to use their professional judgement to meet the needs of patients as much as possible. 

We’ll be hosting one of our popular RCGP Live webinar events next Wednesday discussing the latest developments with Omicron and the booster campaign. Chris Whitty, and Cambridge University’s Prof David Speigelhalter have agreed to take part, subject to urgent Covid-related matters that might arise. I’ll be hosting alongside Vice Chair Gary Howsam. Please join us, if you can, and submit questions for the panel using #RCGPLive on Twitter. It’s at 6.30-7.30, Wednesday 22 December, at this YouTube link.

I’ve also been in contact with Mona Aquilina, chair of the College’s Late Career and Retired Members Group, who so brilliantly galvanised thousands of retired doctors to join the vaccination effort last year. Thanks to Mona and her colleagues, the College successfully lobbied to remove a lot of the red tape around the Performers’ List as this was proving a major barrier for GP returners. However, we’re aware that many retired doctors’ offers of help were not taken up so we are continuing to press the case with NHSE and others for more streamlined ‘on boarding’ and local processes to be put in place. At a time when we need to mobilise as much support as possible for general practice, it doesn’t make sense that highly experienced and competent former GPs are being held back by bureaucracy. Elsewhere, the ZOE Covid Study researchers also want to find out more about symptoms and severity of the Omicron variant in the UK. Diagnosis and symptoms can be logged on their app now to rapidly identify how Omicron affects all of us so we can act appropriately. The team previously provided some of the first data on symptoms of wild type COVID, long COVID and vaccine effectiveness. 

Defending the profession

Some of you may have seen a critique of the NHS in the Spectator a couple of weeks ago. Whilst critical of the entire UK health service model, a couple of the writer's comments about general practice - both relating to access to in person appointments - particularly stuck in our craw. Vice Chair Gary Howsam wrote to the editor to set the record straight, and we're pleased that they have published this in full in their latest issue. Letter to the Spectator following claims about general practice.

Research Paper of the Year 2021

Established in 1996, these annual awards are given to recognise an individual or group of researchers who have undertaken and published an exceptional piece of research relating to general practice or primary care.

The awards are split into three categories: Clinical research, Health Service Research (including Public Health and Implementation), and Medical Education (related to primary care). Additionally, each category has an award for papers related to COVID.  Anyone can nominate a GP-authored paper and the awards are not restricted to members of the RCGP.

See more information and nominate.

Managing Drug & Alcohol Problems in Primary Care Conference 24-25 March 2022

Save 20% if you book by 20 December on this popular annual two-day conference, returning to the RCGP at 30 Euston Square in 2022. This is the largest event in the UK for GPs, shared care workers, nurses and other primary care staff, specialists, commissioners and researchers interested in and involved with the management of people with drug and alcohol problems in primary care. Book your place now.

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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