GPs taking on secondary care workload

GPs are providing an increasing number of tests and treatments during the pandemic that would normally be carried out in hospital settings.

A new survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) suggests family doctors across the country are caring for patients who are reluctant to attend or unable to secure hospital appointments.

Practices are increasingly being asked to perform blood tests for hospital outpatients, prescribe medication that would normally be given in secondary care, and complete tests before making a possible cancer referral. There are concerns this change could lead to delays in treatment.

The BMA acknowledged that secondary care staff are struggling to cope with a dramatically increased workload as they continue to battle COVID-19. It added that the situation is not helped by a lack of digital solutions to either carry them out while in hospital or to find alternatives in the community.

The survey found that half of more than 2,000 GPs who responded said they are having to now provide care that would normally be delivered by secondary care colleagues. A further 81 per cent said they have been asked to carry out new investigations and manage ongoing care, which would also usually be done in hospitals, further adding to GP workloads.

This comes as GPs continue to report resource shortages. Eighty per cent reported a shortfall in face masks for staff, and a further 69 per cent needed more masks for patients.

More than a quarter of GPs (28 per cent) reported feelings of depression, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health conditions.

BMA chair of the GP Committee Dr Richard Vautrey said: "The NHS was always going to see a drastic increase in patient demand as COVID-19 arrived in the UK, but this crisis has truly shone a light on the lack of robust IT systems across the health service and the tsunami of extra work increasingly placed on GPs as a result."

He called for rapid action to deliver "long-term solutions" to improve the NHS digital infrastructure.

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