The spread of the Omicron variant is bringing a real sense of déjà vu to Christmas 2021

24 December 2021

The spread of the Omicron variant is bringing a real sense of déjà vu to Christmas 2021 at a time when we hoped we would be over the worst of Covid-19.

As a result, many of us will be working harder than ever over the festive period, but I hope you still get a chance to unwind and spend time with family and friends. 

I hope that you also find some time to reflect on the past year and what you have achieved amid the most difficult and challenging times that general practice and the NHS have ever had to face.

GPs can always be relied on to rally in a crisis and rally you have, time and again. Two weeks ago, Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty and I wrote to College members asking for your help to deliver the booster programme. Latest figures are that 70% of the eligible population have now been vaccinated and much of that is down to your efforts.

Do share your experiences of the work you're doing over the festive period, whether protecting patients by running vaccination clinics or keeping other vital services running, by posting photos on social media using #GetBoostedNow and #PrimaryCare and we'll do our best to amplify them.

What you have done to care for and protect your patients has been remarkable, even in the face of widespread media, political and public criticism. 

These unwarranted and undeserved attacks have been soul-destroying at times, but you’ve never wavered and have carried on doing your best to keep daytime and out of hours services up and running; being there for the people who rely on you, and never more so than in the past 21 months.

Praise also to our brilliant practice teams who have rallied round us and without whom our jobs would be impossible. 

On behalf of the College Officers, I wish a very Happy Christmas to those of you who will be celebrating - and a huge thank you to you all for demonstrating every day that there is nothing ‘general’ about general practice or the hardworking and dedicated individuals who work in it. What you do is extraordinary and it is a privilege to be your Chair.

Latest updates from your College

Booster campaign update

As mentioned above, you're doing a fantastic job stepping up to deliver the Covid-19 booster programme, despite existing pressures and with little respite over the last two years. I said as much to Health Secretary for England Sajid Javid when I met him along with other medical Royal College leads earlier this week - and made clear some of particular issues we're facing at the moment, including staff sickness. It's something I also spoke to the Telegraph about on Tuesday.

We are keen to understand more about the scale of this. One of the strengths of being a membership organisation is having access to quick intelligence about what is going on the ground – it is highly effective in influencing Government and NHS England. With that in mind, please tell us about your experience in our five-minute survey, closing on 5 January.

To help with the challenges you're currently finding yourselves up against, the College has published updated guidance on workload prioritisation and business continuity for practices during the implementation of the accelerated booster vaccination campaign. The prioritisation document replaces guidance from August 2021.

Whilst we continue to press on to vaccinate and increase numbers it remains important that GPs do what we did best in the previous vaccine phases by providing person-centred care focussing on the most vulnerable and high risk patients within our populations, to ensure we don't exacerbate health inequalities by focusing only on numbers being vaccinated.

We hope you find these resources useful. 

#RCGPLive: What Omicron means for general practice

The College hosted a stellar cast for our latest #RCGPLive event, this time on what the Omicron variant means for general practice.

Thanks to everyone who joined live – for everyone else, I know you’re all incredibly busy but if you can spare the time, I recommend you watch it back.

Chief Medical Office for England Professor Chris Whitty and Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England, updated us on why it is so important for general practices to support with the vaccine role out and what is being done nationally to help. 

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University spoke on how we interpret all the statistics we hear every day and how might we communicate the potential benefits and risk of harms of vaccination, and College Vice Chair Gary Howsam shared some practical advice for GPs on how to manage in these difficult times.

It was a fascinating discussion – thank you to everyone who took part. 

Working together

There’s never been a more important time for GPs and hospital consultants to work collaboratively - and there has also never been greater pressure on that relationship as the workload in both sectors becomes increasingly intolerable and the potential for misunderstanding and dysfunction increases. 

In this BMJ article Pritti Aggarwal, a GP, and Harnish Patel, a physician, both from Southampton, describe their experiences of a GP–consultant exchange programme which aims to promote insight into each other’s working day. 

Read, be inspired and give it a go! 

Preventing alcohol and drug-related deaths in custody 

With everything focused on Covid, it’s easy to overlook other valuable work that GPs are doing in the face of the pandemic.

Well done to Jake Hard, Chair of the College’s Secure Environments Group, and his colleagues who have been working with the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody - an advisory body co-sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and Department of Health and Social Care - to examine how best to prevent drug and alcohol-related deaths within the criminal justice system.

Following a successful roundtable event back in April and a lot of further work and research, the end result is a new co-badged report Protecting lives: a cross-system approach to addressing alcohol and drug -related deaths within the criminal justice system, which is being distributed to Ministers and lead officials.

Its recommendations include better resourcing of community drug and alcohol services that divert individuals with substance misuse problems away from short custodial sentences, and wider collaboration between prison and community staff to encourage continuity of treatment, particularly during the transitional period when released from prison.

It’s so important that GPs are represented in this important area so thanks to Jake and his colleagues for their leadership and commitment, especially when there are so many other competing priorities. 

Cameron Fund Christmas Appeal

The Cameron Fund aims to help GPs to get back to work or continue GP training, after struggling with a personal crisis or being unable to work. Last year the fund awarded £304,871 to GP colleagues in hardship during Covid-19. The fund has now launched its Christmas Appeal, and you can make a donation.

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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