By Nadeem Badshah
Leading doctors have warned that GPs need more help and resources if there are more coronavirus cases in the UK.
They have called for forward planning to help overworked medics screen patients and help contain and treat the virus as general practice is operating on a “knife edge”.
As of last week, 5,216 people in the UK have been tested for the infection with nine confirmed positive. But some experts are predicting it could infect up to 50 per cent of Britons.
Professor Mahendra Patel, senior member of the South Asian Health Foundation, believes people can help to reduce GPs’ workload by visiting pharmacists for general hygiene advice on washing your hands, coughs and colds.
He told Eastern Eye, sister publication of Pharmacy Business: “If patients need access to information on which country they have been to, knowing that you can get it from your pharmacist, it saves them knocking on their doctor’s door.
“If they need to be isolated the pharmacist can refer them onto the designated centres.
“Good education is the key part. From some who have travelled to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh there is a lack of awareness and engagement on what to look out for.
“Are they taking on board the messages? Perhaps we need to do more to tailor them to some BAME groups.
“Community leaders, religious leaders can promote it to relieve the unnecessary burden on doctor’s surgeries.”
It comes after Dr Zara Aziz, a GP in Bristol, called for clearer government advice, more resources and “a renewed focus on vaccinations for other illnesses so that health workers, young children, pregnant women or older people don’t fall ill to other outbreaks, making them more susceptible to contracting the virus.”
She added: “General practice is at a precipice and any small shifts in workload – whether through staff sickness or extra patients on the practice list – could send it into freefall.
“This is particularly a concern for smaller practices or those already in distress. There is currently no system for flagging workload pressure and rising demand, such as the Opel altering system in hospitals.”
Dr Kailash Chand, a GP, said doctors are seeing more patients than ever, an increase of 15 per cent since 2010-11, but access to appointments is still problematic for many.
He told Eastern Eye: “Despite huge workloads, I’m sure GPs won’t shirk their responsibilities to deal with any emergency thrown at them, should coronavirus hit British shores.
“But as Zara Aziz says, we need lot more resources and measures need to be in place to help GPs cope if inundated by fearful patients or those presenting with the symptoms.
“The onus is on the government to support GPs to deal with any impending epidemic of coronavirus in the UK.
“Better information on epidemiology, pathogenesis, and treatments are urgent priorities to contain this epidemic.”
The government says anyone with or without symptoms but is at potential risk of coronavirus should stay at home and call 111 for further advice and screening.
Dr Helena McKeown, chair of the British Medical Association’s representative body and a GP in Wiltshire, said the NHS and the care system is working incredibly hard to contain coronavirus.
She added: “General practice is currently operating on a knife’s edge, so it’s imperative that those working on the frontline of the NHS have everything they need to keep cases to a minimum and workload stable, when patients do present in general practice.
“The government is advising that people at risk of having the virus or who might have symptoms should self-isolate and call NHS 111.
“We understand however that patients will and do turn up at their GP practice, and there has been some confusion around quarantine procedures and dealing with possible contamination in surgeries.
“We need to make sure everyone is on the same page, with the same detailed information about what to do if a patient presents with possible coronavirus. This is not only for the safety of patients, but also to make sure that if cases do persist, or indeed the situation escalates, that our health service has appropriate plans in place and is as prepared a as possible.”
Last weekend more than 100 Britons evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan – the centre of the virus outbreak – ended their isolation in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
Meanwhile, passengers rescued from the Diamond Princess ship in Japan were taken to Wirral’s Arrowe Park Hospital to be quarantined.