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General practice needs Government investment to manage next stage of Covid-19

by Awil Mohamoud
10 July 2020

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The Government must provide general practice with additional funding to prepare it for an ‘influx’ of patients and the long-term health consequences of Covid-19 in communities, the RCGP has said. 

While the focus so far in the pandemic has largely been on hospitals, ‘it is general practice that will be ‘central and essential’ to the recovery and rehabilitation of patients and rebuilding the NHS post-pandemic,’ the college said. 

RCGP has released a report examining general practice’s role post-Covid and how it will have to adapt to face new challenges. 

It said practices are preparing for a surge in patients with ‘long Covid’ – those who have recovered from the virus, but who will experience new or longer-term symptoms, such as respiratory difficulties, cognitive impairment and chronic fatigue. 

General practice would also need to deal with a spike in mental health issues resulting from three months of lockdown

The report urges Governments across the UK to develop a costed funding plan to support general practice in dealing with the added pressures. 

Extra funding would be needed to, among other things, ensure GP practices have the IT tools and broadband connectivity to deliver remote digital consultations – both from surgeries and at home, and to work collaboratively with other health and care settings, the report said. 

In May, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that years of ‘inadequate’ investment has left the NHS having to rely on ‘outdated’ and ‘inefficient’ IT, that has struggled to accommodate remote working. 

Funding would also be needed to scale up the use of self-care and remote monitoring tools, including wearables and apps, it added. 

The report urged the Government to adapt general practice funding arrangements so practices serving more deprived populations are better supported. 

Also, it called for strategies to recruit and retain staff in under-doctored areas. Figures show that the number of fully qualified full-time equivalent GPs fell by 712 since March 2019.

RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘Covid-19 will leave a lingering and difficult legacy and it is GPs working with patients in their communities who will be picking up the pieces.

‘The pressures in general practice prior to the pandemic have been well documented by the College but we are now gearing up for the wave of new pressures coming our way as a direct result of Covid-19.’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘mini budget’, announced in Parliament earlier this week, has been criticised for avoiding details on how it would help the health sector recover from the huge impact of the pandemic.  

The summer fiscal plan included new measures to incentivise public spending and prevent mass unemployment, following three months of lockdown and a severe economic downturn. 

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘While there’s much for young people, the energy sector and UK businesses to celebrate, there’s next to nothing for public services and the workers who’ve kept the country going through the last few difficult months.’

‘Proper investment’ in health services would ‘heal over the deep cracks in care and the NHS exposed by the pandemic,’ he said. It would help national and local public services employ more staff and ‘bring back support and security’ to communities, he added.