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NHS Is Facing A “Bunfight” For Locum Doctors To Fill GP Gaps Caused By Covid

3 min read

The NHS is in a “bunfight” to hire locum GPs to fill rota gaps caused by a new wave of Covid infections, on top of tackling the backlog in primary care already built up during the pandemic.

The chair of the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) said this winter has seen demand “unlike any other” for locums as the country grapples with a huge rise in cases driven by the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Dr Richard Fieldhouse told PoliticsHome it’s “very busy”, and his members are seeing “absolutely huge demand from practices”.

The UK recorded its highest daily Covid case rate since the pandemic began on Wednesday, with 78,610 infections identified. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty has warned it is difficult to know how the NHS will cope over the next four weeks.

Fieldhouse, whose NASGP represents thousands of locum GPs, doctors who work on a shift-by-shift basis across different practices according to need, said Covid-related staff shortages in hospitals are having a knock-on effect at local surgeries as patients are unable to get hospital appointments.

He said practices are also looking for staff cover as GPs are forced to self-isolate after catching Covid-19 or being exposed to it.

“It’s a bit of a bit of a bunfight trying to get hold of locums,” Fieldhouse said.

“It's not because there aren't locums around, there are loads of locums around, it’s that this is their livelihood, they get booked as far in as advance as they possibly can.

“This time of year is not normally that busy, it’s busy, but it's not this off-the-scale busy.”

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said impacts were being felt acutely in London, which has seen the highest number of new cases so far.

The senior medic said that staff forced to stay off sick would be the "biggest challenge" faced by the health service, adding that Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital trust was already facing shortages of around 10% due to illness.

As the vaccine booster programme ramps up, redeploying many doctors from their day-to-day work, Fieldhouse said there is more demand for GPs to cover regular appointments, where there is already a “huge patient backlog”.

Speaking to the Commons health and social care committee today, Whitty said the UK could surpass the previous highest number for admissions to hospital with Covid-19 in a single day.

"The peak of just over 4,500, or 4,583 to be exact, people admitted at the absolute peak – it is possible because it is going to be very concentrated” he told MPs.

“Even if it is milder, because it's concentrated over a short period of time, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day.

"That is entirely possible. It may be less than that. But I'm just saying that is certainly possible."

But he added that the “range of possibilities is really quite wide, and that's why it's very difficult to make definitive views about where the NHS is going to end up in the next four weeks”.

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