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Coronavirus: practices should triage patients booking online, says NHS England

by Costanza Pearce
9 March 2020

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GP practices have been advised to remote triage all patients who use online booking in order to ‘mitigate any risk’ of patients infected with Covid-19 attending the practice.

In a letter sent to practices by NHS England, practices were advised to make changes to their online bookings to prevent ‘potentially infected patients’ from attending the practice by initially triaging via telephone or video. 

Last month, practices around the country defied the national stance and suspended online appointment bookings, after NHS England refused the BMA’s request for a blanket suspension due to the outbreak.

In the letter, NHS England director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘To mitigate any risk that potentially infected patients book appointments online and attend the practice when they should be receiving advice to self-isolate or go through testing, all practices are now being advised to change face-to-face appointments booked online to triage appointments via telephone or video.’

The letter also confirmed that all practices will receive an ‘initial stock’ of personal protective equipment (PPE), including ‘400 general use aprons, 300 pairs of examination gloves and 300 fluid repellent face masks’.

However, it said that these will be issued this week, adding that, ‘larger surgeries will receive repeat deliveries to ensure they have sufficient amounts.’

The letter also advised practices to consider putting ‘all suitable patients’ on electronic repeat dispensing ‘as soon as possible’.

However, it added: ‘Practices should not change their repeat prescription durations or support patients trying to stockpile: these actions may put a strain on the supply chain and exacerbate any potential shortages.’  

Across the UK, at least 20 GP practices have been forced to close for deep cleaning after potential exposure, while a small number of practices have now moved to a telephone-first model of consultation to avoid walk-in cases.

It comes as Management in Practice’s sister publication, Pulse, revealed that the new programme of ‘random’ testing within GP practices has detected two coronavirus cases, both within Surrey.

Last week, the Government announced a UK-wide action plan to deal with the outbreak, which it said could affect 80% of the population in a worst-case scenario.

Planned measures for the NHS to tackle the epidemic include the GMC re-registering retired doctors; drafting in medical students; cancellations of routine care; and NHS staff being allowed to forcibly detain patients suspected of having the virus.

NHS England has already declared the outbreak a ‘stage 4’ emergency, meaning it can take control of local NHS resources, such as for example emergency bed planning.

Last week, it was announced that the first patient in England who tested positive for Covid-19 has died. It is believed that they contracted the virus in the UK.