Long-term lessons from the pandemic

21 January 2022


The journalist James Marriott bemoans the unwillingness of politicians to learn lessons from the pandemic. He points to the irony that the world has changed irrevocably for the families and friends of the more than 150,000 people who have died from Covid, and the many thousands of clinicians who’ve cared for them, and yet the political discourse is to move on, to pretend that nothing has happened.

He asks whether we remember the impact of the pandemic on inequalities, the praise the public heaped on key workers especially NHS staff, the efforts teachers made to keep children learning, the young who gave up their liberty, the transformation in how we use communication technologies.

He explains that learning from all of these experiences requires radical and sustained political action and that won’t happen because the next election is only ever a short time away.

Marriott’s conclusion is striking: ‘Remarkable though it may seem to us today, the most sustained period of upheaval Britain has known since the Second World War – and the worst event in many people’s lives – may yet end up as a fairly inconsequential moment in our history’.

But those of us who work in general practice won’t, mustn’t, forget. Colleagues in my practice in East London are determined to use triage and communication technologies more effectively than we did before the pandemic, to make greater efforts to address the striking inequalities in our community, to continue to call for greater investment in general practice to ensure we have time to care.

Politicians may want to forget but general practice will remember and learn.




Updates from College Chair Martin Marshall


CMO’s thank you

I hope members in England saw my latest joint message with Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty on Tuesday, thanking you for your magnificent response to the booster campaign before Christmas and into the New Year.

GPs have rallied to the challenge, as always, and 64% of the population have now received three doses of the vaccine. This feat is even more remarkable given the other workload and staffing issues GPs are facing.

These efforts have been replicated across the UK, not least in Northern Ireland where they recently reached the impressive milestone of half a million jabs. The College’s Devolved Chairs and Chief Medical Officers will be communicating separately to members in their respective countries.

Well done everyone. The booster rollout has been a very practical reminder of the value of general practice and the huge contribution that GPs and our teams make to the NHS.

I hope it also serves as a salutary lesson for our political leaders - and we’ll make sure this is not forgotten in our ongoing discussions to get greater investment and support for general practice.


CQC and ethnic minority GPs 

In March 2021, following a motion to UK Council, the College raised a number of issues with the Care Quality Commission about the impact of its inspections on GPs and their teams from ethnic minority communities. It's an issue we’d been lobbying and engaging with the CQC about since November 2020, and as a result, this week they published a new report: ‘Ethnic minority-led GP practices: impact and experience of CQC regulation’.       

This research is a useful first step, but there is still much to do to in this important area. We need to see progress on the recommendations made in the report, to address the inequalities we know are faced by our ethnic minority members and their teams. You can read our response here.       

We will continue to work constructively with CQC, NHS England and other relevant bodies towards an improved system of inspection that keeps patients safe and is supportive of all GPs, taking into account the specific challenges of GP teams working in ethnic minority-led practices.


RCGP amendment to the Health and Care Bill debated in the House of Lords

The Health and Care Bill is currently going through parliament. Key to the proposed reforms is GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups being abolished and their roles transferred into larger Integrated Care Systems. The College is concerned that the voice of GPs and wider primary care services will be significantly weakened as a result of these reforms and so we have put forward an amendment to the Bill, supported by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Association of Optometrists. It was tabled by former Chief Executive of the NHS Lord Nigel Crisp and was debated in the House of Lords this week.       

The amendment aims to ensure a stronger voice for primary care services in our future healthcare system. If passed, it would require Integrated Care Boards to work with primary care services when preparing and revising their five year plans, in the same way they are required to work with NHS trusts/NHS foundation trusts. Find out more about our work to influence the Health and Care Bill

In other public affairs news, I met with Minister with responsibility for Primary Care, Maria Caulfield, to update her on the current workload, workforce and wider challenges in general practice. We spoke about the role of general practice in delivering the vaccination programme, and I questioned what the government is doing to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy for GPs to ease workload. We will continue to sound the alarm for general practice at every opportunity.


Telephony offer for practices

You may remember that as part of the Winter Access Fund, there was an offer from NHSEI to provide short term, outbound only Telephony functionality via MS Teams. This offer is still available to practices in England and if you wish to take it up you can get in contact here.         

The functionality provided is an additional component to the Microsoft Teams application and will increase telephone capacity at no additional cost to the practice. It enables staff to use MS teams to make outbound only calls independently of their existing telephone solutions, freeing up the existing lines for incoming calls. Practices will retain their current telephony supplier and associated number to support the receiving of calls.

The additional outbound only call functionality will expire on 30th April 2023.


Vaccines for high risk 5-11 year-olds

NHSEI are due to send out some further information shortly for COVID-19 vaccinations for those considered ‘high-risk’ aged 5-11, following planning guidance published just before Christmas. We would encourage as many practices as possible  to support their PCN vaccinations efforts for this group to ensure sufficient coverage. However, it is recognised that this will not be possible for all areas due to extreme workload challenges being faced. We are also awaiting JCVI guidance on the vaccinations of the wider 5-11 year-old groups, and we have made it clear to key stakeholders that if this does go ahead, we do not anticipate the responsibility falling to general practice due to capacity challenges.


Clinical Hot Topics: Issues affecting ethnic minority patients - now available on demand     

Almost 700 members registered for our Clinical Hot Topics two-part conference in November looking at issues affecting ethnic minority patients. The speakers received extremely positive feedback from delegates for their sessions on dermatology, haematology, infectious disease and travel health, women's health and much more. If you weren't able to attend, the conferences are now available free and on-demand so that all our members can benefit from this important event.       


Make your practice active

RCGP Active Practices are continuing to inspire their patients and staff to improve their mental and physical health in 2022. Updates to our Physical Activity and Lifestyle Hub include Make Your Move and resources for patients with long-term health conditions, and Swim England factsheets supporting those with conditions including asthma and dementia and people recovering from COVID-19. Sign up today to be accredited as an Active Practice - it's completely free.       


Get accredited here


InnovAiT Assistant Editor - vacancy

We're recruiting an Assistant Editor for InnovAiT, the College's educational journal. Applications from AiTs /GPs with an interest in GP training welcomed.

Reporting to the GP Editor, the Assistant Editor will support the journal by commissioning articles, arranging them for peer review, reviewing and editing articles, and checking article page proofs. The Assistant Editor will be expected and encouraged to write a variety of short articles or contribute to regular features with the support and supervision of the other editors. The post offers the opportunity to learn about all aspects of authoring and publication.

Previous writing, reviewing or editing experience, and familiarity with the educational requirements of trainee GPs is desirable. The work will be done online, remotely, and will take up 1–2 hours per week. This is a paid post.

For more details on the vacancy click here.

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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