Addressing the COVID-19 inquiry in Wales

15 May 2020

The latest stage

On Thursday, the Health Social Care and Sport Committee of our newly renamed Welsh Parliament – Senedd Cymru – met for the latest stage of their inquiry into COVID-19 in Wales.

Dr Rob Morgan, Vice Chair RCGP Wales, and I spoke on behalf of the College, and Helen Whyley represented the Royal College of Nursing. We spent an hour answering the questions of the committee members, now known by the moniker MS (Member of the Senedd) as opposed to AM (Assembly Member).

Prior to the meeting, both colleges had submitted written evidence to the Committee.

Commending and critiquing

Questions covered a wide array of topics and there was probably scope for a meeting twice the length of the one hour allotted. Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity to be the voice of general practice in the corridors of power and we were pleased to have been able to contribute our thoughts at such an early stage.

Our aim was to raise the vitally important issues which have affected general practice during the outbreak, to acknowledge where progress had been made, and to highlight aspects of innovation we would like to see continue in the future.

Where there was a need to critique decision-making, we did so, but we sought to be balanced, acknowledging that the circumstances were extreme for us all and that there was no best practice guide available. We were all learning as the pandemic struck.

PPE provision

The opening question related to PPE provision and while acknowledging the progress that had been made, it was necessary to highlight the failing in both quality and supply at earlier stages of the outbreak.

Rob explained to the committee how GPs had pre-empted what was coming by buying their own equipment as early as January while official supplies were far slower.

It was also noted that local industry had played a role in filling the gap with kind donations of PPE and sanitiser.

Sharing test results

Rob called for COVID-19 test results from patients to be shared with GPs as a matter of course, rather than GPs spending time chasing up patients to hear about the outcome, which in turn can cause stress for the patient. This is a small step which would make a significant difference.

Shielding letters

There was considerable discussion about shielding letters. I think the whole procedure around this will require review in due course.

From communications between Welsh Government, GPs and the Older People’s Commissioner, through to how data about those included in the shielding category were identified, will need to be looked at.

There were certainly aspects I would have liked to see handled better by Welsh Government and NHS Wales, but I also think that GPs will need to be open to new ways of working to ensure there is good data available to identify patients in need of shielding for (hopefully distant) future health emergencies.

Technology and wellbeing in general practice

On a more positive note, Rob welcomed technological innovation in general practice, paying tribute to the work of the NHS Wales Informatics Service.

Aspects such as remote working and electronic prescribing are features we are keen to see as part of the long-term future of the profession. Though, there will always be a place for the traditional face to face consultation.

We were also asked about the confusion around lockdown rules and the divergence between Wales and England. Bluntly, yes, there is confusion!

The final question was about the wellbeing of health professionals and it is encouraging that this is at the forefront of the committee’s thinking.

The hour flew by, but I hope that members will feel we provided voice to many of the concerns and ideas they have raised with us. If the committee requires further contribution from us, we’ll be happy to provide this.

Look after yourselves and each other.

Post written by

Dr Peter Saul, Joint Chair of RCGP Wales

Dr Peter Saul qualified in 1985 and currently is a partner in Rhosllanerchrugog near Wrexham. He combines his work in the practice with his other professional passion of medical education, in the role of Associate Postgraduate Dean in the Wales Deanery. He also works one session a week running the Paediatric Allergy Clinic at Chester Hospital.

Peter has been an active member of his local RCGP faculty, serving as Chair and as Treasurer. He is also actively involved with the media, with a medical column in the local newspaper and as a regular radio contributor.

For fun he rides a bike (his favourite being his red Brompton), and when in need of a loftier perspective he flies his part owned light aircraft from Welshpool Airport. He lives on a smallholding and has three grown up children, one of whom is a junior doctor in London.

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