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September 2020

General practice in frontline for dealing with ‘long COVID’

General practice will be at the forefront of helping patients cope with the ‘lingering and difficult legacy’ of COVID-19 – but will need support, says RCGP.

The College says that general practice is preparing for an ‘influx’ of patients with ‘long COVID’ – those who have recovered from the virus but who will go on to experience new or longer-lasting symptoms such as respiratory difficulties, cognitive impairment and chronic fatigue, all of which will require long-term treatment and support from GPs.

The RCGP says that while the focus of the pandemic up until now has been on ITUs and hospitals, it is general practice that will be ‘central and essential’ to the recovery and rehabilitation of patients and rebuilding the NHS post-pandemic.

The report General Practice in a Post-COVID World, outlines how GPs will be on the frontline of dealing with the physical and psychological health consequences of the COVID-19 virus, and highlights the need for urgent government planning and funding.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, more than 1 million patients a day were seen in general practice. The College predicts a ‘new wave’ of physical and emotional health problems as patients try to recover from their COVID-19 experiences, especially in those who have been treated with mechanical ventilation in intensive care, and a surge in other mental health issues resulting from the social and economic impact of lockdown, such as social isolation and unemployment.

Launching a campaign calling on the Government to each produce a comprehensive plan to support GPs in managing the longer-term effects of COVID-19 in the community, RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘The way in which GPs and their teams have responded to the crisis has been remarkable and despite the numerous challenges that COVID-19 has presented, we have seen positive changes in general practice as a result of the advances in technology and the temporary suspension of the Quality Outcomes Framework, and CQC practice inspections.

‘But COVID-19 will leave a lingering and difficult legacy and it is GPs who will be picking up the pieces.

‘General practice has remained open for business throughout the pandemic and has continued to see patients with COVID and non-COVID illnesses, as well as keeping up vital preventive work such as the childhood vaccination programme. But the focus must now shift to greater support for general practice, so that we can give patients the best care possible in the months and years ahead.’

Practice Nurse 2020;50(7):7