Mike Holmes is a general practitioner at Haxby Group in Yorkshire and the Vice Chair (Membership) at the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Our primary care workforce has been at the heart of the response to COVID-19, working hard in new and rapidly changing circumstances to ensure patient care continues to be safely provided to those who need it in the community. Furthermore that same workforce will be critical as we move into autumn, winter and beyond to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

I really am in awe of the effort, grateful to colleagues right across primary care and more proud than ever to be a GP.

It has been disappointing to see suggestions that general practice has not been open during the pandemic. This really couldn’t be further from the truth; first-hand experience from my own practice means I know this is not the case; over 20,000 telephone consultations, over 6,000 face to face consultations and almost 2,000 home visits from May to July 2020 is surely evidence enough that general practice was open and supporting our patients. Furthermore, the focus on those vulnerable to the situation; whether shielding, in care homes or at the end of life is a role general practice should be really proud of.

This is supported by a recognition that general practice is certainly as busy this week as it was in the corresponding week in 2019. This at a time where we are poised to enter what is traditionally the busiest time of the year, when our schools are reopening and when general practice is immersed in the most important flu campaign ever.

I really am in awe of the effort, grateful to colleagues right across primary care and more proud than ever to be a GP. I do, however, worry about our wellbeing and what we need to do in order to ensure we can continue to contribute in this valuable way.

In April 2020 NHSEI, with support from the RCGP, launched #LookingAfterYouToo with the aim of providing an easy to access, individually-tailored coaching support service for all those working in primary care — both clinical staff including those working in pharmacy, optometry and dentistry, and also non-clinical staff. The service focuses on proactively supporting people through COVID-19 by providing opportunities to process experiences, develop coping skills, deal with difficult conversations and develop strategies for self-management in difficult circumstances. It has had a really positive impact since its launch with almost 3000 individual coaching sessions being delivered by experienced coaches and in total almost 4000 booked. It is available at https://people.nhs.uk/lookingafteryoutoo/

It is important that everyone in the primary care workforce are aware of the support available and ensure that they feel able to access this when they need to.

It is important that we are seeing a renewed focus on wellbeing across the NHS. In primary care there have been offers from key stakeholders including the RCN, RPS, the BMA and the RCGP. The RCGP’s Covid support hub has featured a wellbeing section and we have produced a series of webinars and other resources. The interorganisational collaboration has been really positive and underlines the priority being given to our workforce as we approach this potentially challenging time.

It is a real privilege to be part of general practice and the NHS but I am concerned that the pressure we are facing will have significant consequences.

In addition, when appraisal for doctors restart, they will offer a confidential professional discussion about their experience of the pandemic and provide a chance for them to reflect on their health and wellbeing as essential factors for high standards of professional practice. There is ongoing support being developed for primary care networks which will be important in supporting the expanding workforce.

Last month NHS England and Improvement published We are the NHS: People Plan which sets out the actions needed to look after and support our NHS people, recognising the pressure we have all been under during the COVID-19 response. This feels more important than ever.

It is a real privilege to be part of general practice and the NHS but I am concerned that the pressure we are facing will have significant consequences. At this time we must continue to prioritise wellbeing in a positive, proactive way that empowers colleagues to be in control of what they need so that they can continue to do the first class job they are doing to contribute to the safety of the public. RCGP, NHSEI and other key stakeholders are responding to this challenge but there is always more that can be done.

 

Featured photo by Michael Niessl on Unsplash