Leading Welsh doctor pays tribute to role GPs playing in pandemic

by BMA Cymru Wales Media Team

Press release from BMA Cymru Wales

Location: Wales
Published: Saturday 21 November 2020

A leading Welsh doctor has thanked GPs and their staff for the role they have played so far in keeping the public safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Phil White, Chair of the BMA’s Welsh General Practitioners Committee, thanked GPs for their continued dedication to their local communities and how rapidly the profession reacted early on, whilst maintaining a high quality service.”

He added that “without [GPs], the health of the nation would have massively worsened.”

Dr White noted that while the profession is resilient, GPs are “now dealing with more patients in a day than we did a year ago” and that GPs and staff are “physically and mentally exhausted” as a result of Covid-19.

This declaration is backed up by the latest survey carried out by BMA Cymru Wales, the union that represents doctors and medical students in Wales, which has found that four in every five GPs reported seeing an increase in workload, with every single one of them acknowledging the significant impact on staff wellbeing.

"Some considered General Practice as closed. We knew it wasn’t" said Dr White. He added GPs have been "inundated with telephone calls" and that and that remote consultation has become "a way of life."

Further findings from BMA Cymru Wales show that 90% of GP practices have been called upon to do work that is usually carried out by the Local Health Boards, such as blood tests or ECGs, or having to re-refer their patients from one specialty to another. This is in addition to their usual work, including making sure patient’s vaccines are kept up to date in advance of a potential Covid-19 jab.

In almost every one of these cases there was no request made to the practice or discussion with the local medical committee regarding whether GPs had capacity to take on this work.

Dr White, a GP of more than 37 years in Ynys Môn/Anglesey, hopes Welsh Government recognises the sacrifices being made by GPs and their staff to support patients and the rest of the NHS.

He reminded Welsh Government that new ways of seeing patients, which has meant practices have been able to remain open during the pandemic, are not without their own challenges.

It is for this reason that BMA Cymru Wales has been calling for Welsh Government to make changes to GP contracts so doctors can focus 100% on fighting the pandemic “whilst maintaining as normal a service as possible” for other patients.

"Remote consultations take longer and are more intensive" said Dr White, however he added that there are still significant and onerous "requirements for PPE and decontamination" when face to face appointments are needed for a patient.

"Our way of working has been radically changed, probably permanently" he said to the conference, meeting virtually for the very first time, "computer systems like AccuRx and ‘Attend Anywhere’ have become as important to us as a stethoscope."

One piece of new technology which has been beneficial during these unprecedented times is Consultant Connect, rolled out earlier this year by Welsh Government. BMA Cymru Wales members have reported that the new app, which allows doctors to speak directly to secondary care specialists to obtain specialist advice, has already been used by almost half of Welsh GPs, with over 80% of those using the app rating their experience as either "positive or very positive."

However, despite the availability of additional technology, over three-quarters of Welsh GPs said they feel "anxious" about the upcoming winter pressures.

Speaking after his speech, Dr White explained that "technology alone will not address the backlog of patients that the NHS is seeing," adding that "things can not go on like this indefinitely."

He therefore called on Welsh Government to "invest in the NHS to urgently address the backlog" for the wellbeing of patients and staff alike.

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. GPC Wales conducted a survey of constituents in Wales during September – October 2020.

  2. 103 respondents completed the survey from across Wales.

  3. GPs were asked: ‘Considering the impact of COVID-19 on the NHS in Wales, how would you rate your current level of workload? 84% of respondents answered much higher or slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels.

  4. GPs were asked: ‘Do you feel this additional workload is having a detrimental effect on staff morale?’ 100% of respondents answered yes.

  5. GPs were asked: ‘Is your practice being asked to provide services to patients which would normally be provided by Health Boards? (This may include blood tests, ECGs, follow-ups, prescriptions, new referrals) 90% of respondents answered yes.

  6. GPs were asked: ‘Was there any discussion with the practice or LMC prior to the transfer of work?’ 1% answered yes.

  7. GPs were asked: ‘Have you used the new Consultant Connect service to obtain advice from specialists in secondary care?’ 44% answered yes.

  8. GPs were asked ‘How would you rate your experience of using the Consultant Connect app?’ 84% answered positive or very positive.

  9. A separate BMA survey of which 144 GPs in Wales responded was conducted in October 2020.

  10. To the question: ‘How anxious or enthused do you personally feel about working during the forthcoming Autumn/Winter months?’ 78% of respondents said they were anxious or extremely anxious.
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