A lack of robust IT systems across the health service has meant that GPs are now being expected 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, which could lead to delays in treatment.

According to a survey by the British Medical Association, half of more than 7,000 doctors respondents said that they are having to now provide care that would normally be delivered by secondary care colleague This is often because of a lack of digital solutions to enable hospitals doctors to do this, as well as a lack of planning for alternatives in the community.

A further 81% said that they have been asked to carry out new investigations and manage ongoing care, which would also usually be done in hospitals, further adding to GPs’ growing workload.

The BMA said that this extra work and lack of support, on top of the challenge of the pandemic, is likely to explain why 31% of doctors surveyed feel as though they are currently suffering from a form of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress, or other mental health condition, and that it’s been worse while working during Covid-19.

IT and patient care need taking into the twenty-first century

The survey comes as the BMA’s General Practice Committee England issued a paper, Trust GPs to lead, which outlines five key principles for change in general practice after the pandemic, including an agreed framework that reduces the need for practices to re-input information from hospital colleagues’ correspondence onto their own systems.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC chair at the BMA, said: “The NHS was always going to see a drastic increase in patient demand as Covid-19 arrived in the UK. This needs rapid action to deliver long-term solutions to improve the interface between secondary and primary care, and make sure we have the digital infrastructure in place to stop unnecessary prescribing, duplication of workload and extending patient pathways.

“Crucially though, we need to trust GPs as clinical leaders and give them and their teams the greater autonomy they’ve been afforded during this pandemic to bring patient care into the twenty-first century, where video consultations, for example, are readily available and red tape limiting change is dramatically reduced.

“If this pandemic has taught the Government anything, it should be that the NHS must be properly joined up and resourced at all times. Not only in preparation for something as serious as Covid-19, but also for after the crisis has subsided so that staff can continue to give patients, both in the community and elsewhere in the system, the safe, high-quality care they need and deserve.”