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Practices that cut social distancing acting ‘reasonably’, HSE says

by Jess Hacker
22 October 2021

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Practices that cut social distancing down from 2 metres to 1 metre will be taking ‘reasonably practicable precautions’ in reducing Covid risk, the Health Safety Executive (HSE) has said despite growing concern over case numbers.

Last week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recommended surgeries should reduce social distancing to help improve access to GPs, in line with NHS England’s £250m-backed GP access plan.

When asked if it saw any risks to staff associated with the measure, the HSE said if employers follow the current, relevant guidance ‘they will be taking, under health and safety legislation, reasonably practicable precautions to control the risk’.

However, practice managers shared concerns over the risks the recommendation may pose to staff. One practice manager flagged that reducing social distance may be an issue for ‘smaller practices with small waiting rooms’.

NHSE’s new GP access plan set out several targets for surgeries to meet, including instructions to reach pre-pandemic levels of face-to-face appointments offered by November.

Practices that do not meet the target will lose access to the winter fund, while ‘immediate’ action will be taken against the 20% of practices with the lowest face-to-face appointment levels.

This comes days after the UK recorded its highest number of daily Covid cases in 12 weeks, at 45,066.

Meanwhile, in a Downing Street press briefing yesterday evening (21 October), the Government said it does not plan to introduce new Covid restrictions, as Mr Javid claimed pressure on the NHS – including GPs – is ‘not unsustainable’.

Responding to a question from the BBC, Mr Javid said: ‘We don’t believe that the pressures that are currently faced by the NHS are unsustainable. 

‘Don’t get me wrong, there are huge pressures – especially in A&E, in primary care for example as well – but at this point, we don’t believe they are unsustainable.’