Revolution in UK General Practice Due to COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey

Cureus. 2020 Aug 5;12(8):e9573. doi: 10.7759/cureus.9573.

Abstract

Objectives To assess how UK General Practitioners (GPs) and Practice Managers (PMs) have coped with the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic and whether they felt adequately supported by the wider National Health Service (NHS). Methods This is a cross-sectional survey. All GPs and PMs (total 1,354) in Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland (LLR) were invited to participate in an online questionnaire. Results A total of 95 invitees completed the survey. Over a quarter had required time off work due to COVID symptoms or contact. All respondents described either introducing or increasing the use of remote patient consultations. Most striking was the rise in video consultations from just 3% to 95% during the pandemic. Almost half of the feedback on the usefulness of remote consultations were positive, 16% were negative and 17% were mixed. The most commonly cited benefit was time efficiency. Drawbacks of remote consultations included technical difficulties and poor patient communication. Practice premises, systems and processes also required significant modifications during the pandemic to ensure the provision of safe clinical care, including reception screens, one-way patient flow, greater infection prevention measures. However, despite their ability to introduce such widescale change virtually overnight, over 10% of respondents reported that the strain had placed their practice at risk of closure. Over half of respondents felt they were not provided with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the safety of their staff. Perception of the support provided by NHS England and the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) was rather mixed, although additional guidelines were broadly welcomed. The most requested enduring changes related to remote patient consultations (59%) and remote triage (19%). However, in order to support such largescale permanent change, study respondents felt that a different funding and financial structure is required together with improved IT infrastructure, greater patient education and a more supportive regulatory environment. Conclusions COVID-19 has substantially accelerated the pace of change within NHS primary care. The long-term fear is that there may be insufficient financial and clinical backing from regulatory bodies to support such rapid and far-reaching changes.

Keywords: corona virus; coronavirus pandemic; covid-19; general practice; primary care; survey research.