The leaders of the occupants have welcomed the move to reduce GPs’ workload, allowing them to focus on the COVID booster jab rollout, but warned that the service remains under “significant” pressure.
Following the decision to speed up the vaccination programme, NHS England has told GPs that other targets could be suspended and routine health checks for new patients over 75 and over could be postponed.
The move comes after the government announced it was expanding the booster jab to all adults and reducing the time between the second and third doses to six to three months amid fears about the spread of the new Omron variant. has been
Ministers have promised a “national mission” to ensure that those who are eligible can get bookings by the end of January, but have acknowledged this represents a “huge demand” for the NHS.
Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA’s England GP committee, said reducing the amount of “redundant” appointments would create some additional capacity, but individual practices will have to decide how much they can switch to delivering jobs to COVID .
“We are dealing with significant prevailing workforce pressures – backlog pressure, winter pressure, pandemic pressures,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“While these changes do make a difference and take some time to build, I think every single exercise will have to see how much time it releases.
“What this will do is free up staff time who are busy filling some of these tick-box exercises, so some of our employees can be redeployed to the vaccination effort.”
On Friday the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HSA) said 75 more cases of the Omicron variant had been confirmed in England amid signs of a “small amount” of community infection.
The latest cases take the total to 104 for England and 134 for the UK – including 29 in Scotland and the first confirmed case in Wales.
The HSA said cases of omicron in England have now been identified in the East Midlands, East of England, London, North East, North West, South East, South West and West Midlands.
Individuals who have tested positive for the variant and their contacts are being asked to self-isolate, while the HSA said it was conducting targeted testing at places where positive cases were likely to be contagious.
Dr. Jenny Harris, Chief Executive of HSA, said: “We are monitoring the data closely. Teams at the national and local level are working rapidly to identify and trace all close contacts of each Omicron case.
“We have started seeing cases where there is no link to travel, suggesting that we have a small amount of community transmission.”
The figures came as a risk assessment by the HSA, with the new Omicron variant rated as “red” for infection severity, and “amber” for transmission between humans.
It said the variant, which was first identified in South Africa, was likely to reduce protection from both naturally occurring or vaccine-acquired immunity.
However it acknowledged that there was yet “insufficient data” to reach firm conclusions and presented the assessment with “low confidence”.
Dr Harris said: “We are working as quickly as possible to gather more evidence about the severity of the disease or any effect of the new version on the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“Until we have this evidence, we should exercise the highest level of caution in drawing conclusions about any significant risk to people’s health.”