The Royal College of GPs has written to Matt Hancock demanding urgent clarity for GPs around how and when to use the personal protective equipment they are receiving when seeing patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his letter, Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that COVID-19 was significantly impacting general practice as well as secondary care, but reassurance was needed that GPs and their teams were working safely when seeing patients face to face.
Reflecting feedback from RCGP members about the PPE they have been receiving in their surgeries, Prof Marshall wrote: "GPs across the country have never been more concerned, not just for the safety of themselves and their teams, but for patients too.
"Our members are telling us that their confidence to carry out patient consultations is being impacted by uncertainty over the quality of PPE being supplied to their surgeries. This is particularly relevant for aprons and eye protection, which many believe to be providing inadequate protection.
"We note that the World Health Organisation recommends that GPs should be using eye protection for consultations, yet most practices do not yet have sufficient access to it and there are outstanding concerns around the use of aprons and whether clinicians should have full body cover when seeing patients."
GPs are worried for themselves, their teams and patients
The worry is that GPs will see an increasing number of patients with COVID-19 who will present asymptomatically, particularly in primary care settings, but could still be infectious. Therefore, urgent clarity was needed about whether GPs should begin wearing PPE for all face-to-face patient consultations.
He highlighted that anxiety among the profession as to whether they will "have enough supplies" of PPE, either now or as the crisis deepens. And all these issues could all be resolved through clearer guidance for GPs and primary care teams as to how and when they should be using PPE during patient consultations.
Professor Marshall said: "We have been encouraged to hear that millions of pieces of PPE have been ordered – and we need to see this making its way to GP practices, as well as hospitals, but we also need clarity about how to most effectively use it, and reassurance that all elements of the PPE we receive is safe."