NHS England has confirmed it will provide GP surgeries with personal protective equipment (PPE) to help them deal with the coronavirus outbreak, following complaints from ill-equipped doctors.
In a letter sent to all 7,000 English GP surgeries on Thursday, NHS England made clear they are giving every surgery a full supply of PPE gear, which will help keep staff who come into contact with suspected coronavirus cases safe and help to minimise the spread of the virus.
The move follows complaints by GPs and the British Medical Association that practices are ill-equipped to deal with the outbreak.
More than 20 GP practices have been forced to close temporarily over concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
GPs were advised last month to wear surgical masks and other protective equipment if they came into contact with patients who might have Covid-19, but one doctor pointed out on Twitter that her practice only had two surgical masks left.
In a tweet that went viral, South Cumbria GP Dr Alison Johnston asked the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, what he was doing to protect healthcare staff, adding that they had also received no training in the use of PPE.
NHS England has now confirmed that all practices will be issued with an initial stock of PPE including 400 general-use aprons, 300 pairs of examination gloves and 300 fluid-repellent face masks.
The kits will be sent out next week. Larger surgeries will receive repeat deliveries to ensure they have sufficient amounts, the letter said.
The confirmation followed a call from the BMA for practices to be issued with the specialist equipment.
Dr Helena McKeown, the chair of the BMA representative body, welcomed the news and said GPs were “the first-line defence in the NHS”.
She said: “We have been working closely with NHS England to ensure surgeries have the appropriate equipment, and we’re pleased to see that extra supplies are now going to be delivered to practices across the country.”
“We will continue to have discussions with NHS England about the protection of other doctors and medical students, such as those in hospitals and intensive care units where some Covid-19 patients might need further treatment.”
The letter from Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s medical director for primary care, said: “I recognise that Covid-19 is placing a new and increasing challenge on already busy practices, and this will be an area of concern for you, your teams and your patients.”
She added that NHS England is continually refining plans for the outbreak and is listening to feedback received on emerging coronavirus issues.
Dr Steve Mowle, the honorary treasurer of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The advice from NHS England for GPs is welcome, particularly the confirmation that GP practices in England will start to receive appropriate and necessary protective equipment early next week.
“It’s essential that anybody working in general practice is doing so safely and is as protected from Covid-19 as possible as we work through this challenging time for the NHS and society in general.”
Mowle added that it appears as though the majority of patients are heeding official advice not to go to GP practices if they think they might have Covid-19.
However, he said: “As the situation escalates, we’re going to need to have serious conversations about which tasks to prioritise over others and whether there are any we can stop doing temporarily to create capacity to deal with Covid-19.”
On Friday, GP surgeries were told by NHS England to start conducting as many remote consultations as possible, replacing patient visits with phone, video, online or text contact.
Only 1% of the 340m appointments a year with GPs and other practice staff are currently carried out by video, such as Skype.
The change could last for several months, as experts believe the virus may not peak until April or May, and could last until June or July.