Thousands could lose the ability to see their GP

Research released by the Health Foundation has revealed that one in three GPs who singlehandedly manage a GP practice are at high risk of death from coronavirus.

The charity estimates that this could potentially leave 710,043 patients without face-to-face appointments with their GPs if those at high risk take the difficult decision to limit direct patient contact.

Across England, 3,632 GPs, approximately eight per cent, are deemed at ‘high risk’ of death from coronavirus. NHS England guidance suggests that NHS staff at potentially higher risk from the virus are risk assessed and have their activities adjusted accordingly, including ceasing face-to-face patient contact.

If GPs at high risk of coronavirus do not see patients face-to-face then the impacts of this shift in care will be more sharply felt in the most deprived areas of England. The Health Foundation says that GPs at very high risk of death from coronavirus are more than three times as likely to be working in the most deprived regions.

This is even more exaggerated for single-handed GP practices, which are far more likely to be located in areas of high deprivation. Single-handed practices run by a GP at high or very high risk from coronavirus are more than four times as likely to be located in the most deprived areas of the country than the most affluent.

Almost one in ten GP practices are run by a single GP, serving 2,497,159 patients.

The Health Foundation is calling for national and regional decision makers to provide additional support to keep GPs at high risk from coronavirus and their patients safe and healthy: CCGs must ensure that they are aware of gaps in face-to-face provision of core general practice services in their localities; CCGs must work with practices and primary care networks to make sure that where gaps are identified, arrangements are made so that all patients have access to face-to-face appointments, if needed, and without endangering GPs; and additional and ongoing funding must be made available for costs associated with providing this cover.

Rebecca Fisher, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation and practicing GP, said: “The ongoing risk of Covid-19 to the safety of both patients and GPs means that hundreds of thousands of people may find it much harder to get a face-to-face GP appointment. It’s particularly worrying that GPs at higher risk from Covid-19 are far more likely to be working in areas of high deprivation. Those are precisely the areas with the greatest health need, the biggest burden from Covid-19, and an existing under-supply of GPs relative to need. Unless urgent action is taken this could become another way in which poorer communities become further disadvantaged, and risks further widening health inequalities.”

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