GP wearing a mask seeing to a patient

RCGP warns ‘safety of patients’ must be paramount in restrictions easing

As we approach some of the final stages of easing for Covid-19 restrictions in the UK, Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), Professor Martin Marshall, has called for assurances to be made that patient safety remains the paramount consideration.

In particular, he called for the continued use of masks and other appropriate infection control measures in general practice after July 19, 2021.

Professor Marshall said: “As social distancing restrictions are eased later this month, it’s inevitable that we will face an increase in the number of people being infected with Covid-19 - the Health Secretary himself has suggested we will potentially see 100,000 new cases a day. This will have significant implications for general practice, the wider NHS, and public health in general.

"We understand the drive to return to normal as soon as possible. And as GPs, who are at the forefront of caring for patients whose physical and mental health has been directly and indirectly impacted by lockdown restrictions, we see both sides of the argument.

"But the safety of patients, and those delivering their care, must be paramount. This is why we are calling for the continued use of masks, and other appropriate infection control measures, in general practice settings post-July 19.

“We believe this is a reasonable and proportionate response to rising case numbers. It is also essential that the Government produces clear guidance encouraging the public to continue to behave cautiously and use masks in crowded public places, where appropriate.

"It should not be forgotten that much is unknown about the long-term impact of Covid-19. GPs and our teams are at the forefront of delivering physical and psychological support to an increasing number of patients suffering with long-term symptoms of the virus. Many report that they did not initially have a severe reaction to the virus. The easing of restrictions, and rising infection numbers as a result, means that more patients may suffer from symptoms consistent with Long Covid, which will have long-term implications for the nation's health.

"GPs and our teams are already working under intense workload and workforce pressures, making record numbers of patient consultations as well as delivering around two thirds of the Covid vaccination programme.

“In the face of rising case numbers, we need clarity on how GPs should be expected to prioritise their workload and ensure effective infection control in primary care settings - as well as what the advice is for patients who have symptoms that may be Covid, given our enhanced understanding of the virus."

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As was outlined by Sir Simon Stevens when the NHS announced their green plans back in 2020, 5,700 lives could be saved each year by improved air quality. Even more could see their overall health improve and be in a position to self-manage their conditions, rather than requiring NHS treatment. Covid-19 has already left the NHS with a sizeable treatment backlog, so anything which can be done to improve patient health and reduce demand is beneficial for all.

Working together, we can help the NHS realise its green ambitions as per the Net-Zero National Health Service report and its ambitious 2040 target. Join us on August 25, 2021 for our Net-Zero NHS event, where we will be joined by health sector leaders and innovators for a day of sharing best practice and networking.

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