With the Omicron variant of Covid quickly spreading across the country, tighter restrictions have been put in place in a bid to slow the spread of Omicron down.
This has been done to enable as many people as possible to be vaccinated before numbers escalate further, which should in turn limit the number of hospitalisations and reduce the risk of the NHS becoming more overwhelmed than it already is.
Earlier this week the PM declared the situation an ‘Omicron emergency’.
And the Prime Minister’s announcement that all adults would be offered a booster by the end of December brought forward the deadline by a month. It means that record numbers of people must be jabbed every single day if the new target is to be reached.
While vaccination centre hours are being extended, and military support is being brought in to help the push, a lot of the workload will fall on GPs.
And this comes at a time when it has been widely reported how overstretched GPs already are – with the number of doctors in general practice falling, the remit for a GPs workload increasing, and complexity of the cases they must treat also on the rise.
Now, Sheffield GP Ben Allen, who is based at Birley Health Centre, has responded to concern that such an additional workload will impact a GP’s ability to treat patients with other concerns, and explained how general practice in the city will cope with the demand for boosters.
Dr Allen said: “There are understandable concerns about how we are going to manage this. It is a significant increase and it is well known that GPs are already overstretched.
“What we are having to do is always increasing, and the number of people we have to do it is always decreasing. So it is going to be difficult. Definitely.
“But there is a definite commitment in general practice to try and do what we can to increase boosters. We recognise we do this job because we care about patients, and the health of this country.
“Right now it seems that the priority is to help with boosters. But we also know that we need to balance this with the day to day work of looking after people who are unwell. That is something that is going to be a real challenge.”
How will other appointments be affected?
Dr Allen said: “The important this is that people don’t do anything differently to what they normally would do.
“If you have got an appointment booked expect it to be happening unless you are told otherwise.
“I don’t think many appointments are going to be cancelled, but if they would be the GP will let you know. You do not need to ring to ask as they will let you know, but I think any cancellations are quite unlikely.
“If you are unwell and have concerns about your health you just have to let us know. It is really important we are not missing people who are unwell.
“For example, we don’t want to miss people who have cancer – these things cannot wait.
“We cannot have you second guessing whether your problem is urgent or not – that is our job to determine that.”
What can you do to help GPs?
Dr Allen stressed that it is ‘really important’ that people do not ring their GPs to try and book booster jabs. GPs to not have the ability to arrange these over the phone.
He added: “It is really important that we keep these lines open for people who are unwell.”
You can book appointments by going online here or by calling 119 if you have no internet access.
Dr Allen added that patients contacting them about things other than Covid can also help ensure they get the right care as quickly as possible by giving as much information to general practice receptionists as possible.
This enables the doctors to assess the patient’s complaint when triaging the case, and ensure the patient is sent to the most appropriate person straight away.
He explained: "Receptionists follow the same rules as us, including confidentiality, and they are very important members of the team who save lives on a daily basis. They can use experience, knowledge and training we have given them.”
He added: “At times we may ask them to pass on messages to you from us, which I know is not ideal and it would be much nicer to speak to the GP but is really helpful to us to be able to do that.
“Some times we will ask you to go to appointments in other parts of the city – to what we call hubs or to the pharmacy. Please be flexible. I know it is not what people might prefer but it helps us.
“We are going to be even more overstretched in the next month or so, and we are not going to be able to things perfectly. We just ask you to be patient.
“Show your appreciation to staff if they help you as that really helps them. And if you feel frustrated please try not to get angry as that sets us back when we are working at the pace at which we are working.
“We are always open – we have never closed – and if you need to be seen face-to-face then we will still bring you in."
How important are the booster jabs?
Dr Allen said that Omicron is a ‘serious concern’.
“The vaccinations we have are not as effective against Omicron as we have only had two doses,” he said. “That is why the booster dose seems to be very critical and that is why we are going all out now to get as many people boosted as quickly as we can.
“Another important thing is that this variant can be transmitted before a person gets symptoms. That is why it is so important to use face masks, follow social distancing and avoid unnecessary contact with people, even if you have had two doses of the vaccine.”