Health Covid: Doctors’ leaders back postponed health checks

Practices can postpone minor surgery and routine health checks for over-75s and new patients until 31 March.

All adults in England are expected to be offered boosters by the end of January in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

A further 75 Omicron cases were confirmed in England on Friday.

Those cases took the total for England to 104. Since then, Scotland has recorded one further case on Saturday, taking the total for the UK as a whole to 135 – including one confirmed case in Wales.

On Saturday the UK reported a further 42,848 cases of coronavirus and 127 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test while 372,557 booster jabs were administered on Friday.

Dr Farah Jameel, the GP committee chair of the British Medical Association, said the new measures would release GPs from “filling out paperwork” and chasing unnecessary and often undeliverable targets.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have been struggling with significant prevailing workforce pressures – backlog pressures, winter pressures, pandemic pressures.

“Whilst these changes make a difference and start to create some time, I think every single practice will have to look at just how much time it does release.”

Dr Jameel said the measures would allow staff to prioritise the most vulnerable patients and support the “national priority” to vaccinate people as quickly as possible.

She insisted patients who were unwell or had worrying symptoms would continue to receive care from their GPs.

He said deferring checks for the early warning signs of illnesses such as strokes, cancers and diabetes was “counter-productive” as it would see patients “pushed out of primary care” and being treated in hospitals, which he said would not help with the burden on the NHS.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of an expansion of boosters on Tuesday followed a series of recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

As well as recommending that all over-18s in the UK should be offered top-up vaccines, the JCVI said the minimum gap between the second dose and boosters should be cut from six to three months.

In a letter released on Friday, NHS England acknowledged services were already under pressure but said there was a new “national mission” to increase vaccine capacity.

It also said the NHS’s booking service for vaccinations in England would be updated “no later” than 13 December to allow all adults to book their top-up jabs and to reflect the change in guidance from the JCVI.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said in England Omicron cases had been identified in the East Midlands, East of England, London, North East, North West, South East, South West and West Midlands.

UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “We are continuing to monitor the data closely. Teams nationally and locally are working at pace to identify and trace all close contacts of every Omicron case.

“We have started to see cases where there are no links to travel, suggesting that we have a small amount of community transmission.”

First Welsh Omicron case
Until the rollout was expanded, boosters had been restricted to those aged 40 and over, front-line health or social workers, and those with health issues.

Priority for boosters would still be given to those at the greatest risk, with jabs being given in descending age groups and to the most at-risk groups first, NHS England’s letter says.

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