An "incredible hurdle" lies ahead for GPs and their teams as it prepares for an influx of patients with longer-lasting symptoms of Covid-19 such as respiratory difficulties, cognitive impairment and chronic fatigue.
In a new report General Practice in a Post-COVID World, the college outlines how GPs will be on the frontline of dealing with the physical and psychological health consequences of the Covid-19 virus, and the need for urgent government planning and funding to prepare general practice services for facilitating the recovery of local communities.
It says that while the focus of the pandemic up until now has been on ITUs and hospitals, it is general practice that will be ‘central and essential’ to the recovery and rehabilitation of patients and rebuilding the NHS post-pandemic.
The College predicts a ‘new wave’ of physical and emotional health problems as patients try to recover from their Covid-19 experiences, not least those who have been treated with mechanical ventilation in intensive care, and a surge in other mental health issues resulting from the social and economic impact of lockdown, such as social isolation and unemployment.
Influx of patients with lingering ‘long COVID’ illness
The report calls on the four Governments of the UK to each produce a comprehensive plan to support GPs in managing the longer-term effects of COVID-19 in the community.
The College says the plans should contain:
- Costed proposals for additional funding for general practice;
- Solutions for how the current GP workforce capacity can manage new and pre-existing pressures;
- Commitments to continue the reduction in regulatory burdens and ‘red tape’ which has enabled GPs to spend more time on frontline patient care during the pandemic;
- A systematic approach for identifying those patients who are likely to require primary care support; and
- Proposals for how health inequalities will be minimised to ensure all patients have access to the necessary post-COVID-19 care.
RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “We have seen positive changes in general practice as a result of the advancements in technology and the reduction in contractual and regulatory compliance. The temporary suspension of the Quality Outcomes Framework, practice inspections, and greater flexibility in the appraisal cycle during the pandemic have enabled GPs to invest their time and expertise where it is most needed – frontline care for patients.
“But COVID-19 will leave a lingering and difficult legacy and it is GPs working with patients in their communities who will be picking up the pieces. There will be a significant influx of patients with lingering ‘long COVID’ illness, both physical and emotional, and GPs must have the necessary resources and support to care for patients and help them come to terms with and readjust to the aftermath."
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