Deferral of health checks aims to free up GPs to help with mammoth jab rollout GPs to get income protection for not doing minor surgeries, like mole excisionCampaigners warned the health checks helping older Brits to avoid trips to A&E
Millions of over-75s in England will miss out on routine health checks until April to free up GPs to help with the UK’s anti-Omicron booster drive.
Campaigners accused the Government of breaking its promises to boost face-to-face appointments and slammed the decision as a ‘self defeating exercise’, as over-75s will flood into A&E with their health problems.
The decision to suspend the health checks came from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in response to the Government’s mammoth effort to turbocharge the UK’s Covid booster to ward off Omicron.
The JCVI said that routine health check ups for the over 75s, as well as new patients, can be deferred until April if GPs deem it ‘clinically appropriate’.
The measure is to free up GPs so that they can help with the Covid booster programme, which aims to provide every eligible adult in the UK a third jab by January.
But Dennis Reed, from Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s, said the move was ‘extremely worrying’.
‘These regular check-ups are godsend for older patients because they provide an opportunity for any worries and so on that people have got to be raised with the doctor,’ he said.
‘It’s not an extra that can be dispensed with like some kind of luxury service, it is an essential service for older people,’ he said.
In total 18million Britons have had a booster jab so far and, after yesterday’s guidance change, all 53million adults over 18 will be eligible eventually. At the current rate of 2.4million jabs per week, it would take until March to get everyone boosted
Health check-ups for the over-75s cover a variety of health issues, from checking blood pressure to early signs of dementia, though many older people also take it as opportunity to ask a health professional about any health concerns they have.
Mr Reed also said the tactic to free up health resources would be a ‘self-defeating’, as older people with treatable conditions like UTIs could end up in emergency care .
‘If things aren’t dealt with early, as they often can be it’s down to A&E and probably admission to hospital,’ he said.
He added that older people would feel let down by the decision, and accused the Government of breaking its promise to boost the number of face-to-face appointments.
‘Somehow our lives are not as important as the lives of younger people. It’s a bit like some primitive societies leaving older people outside the caves to die,’ he said.
Another element of the the JCVI plans give GPs income protection until April for not carrying out minor procedures such as removing moles, something they get paid for, so they are not disadvantaged financially from participating in the booster rollout.
The Royal College of GPs’ vice chair Dr Gary Howsam, welcomed the measures describing them as ‘sensible’.
‘There are already more than 1,000 GP-led vaccination sites in operation, and GPs are already continuing to deliver millions of Covid vaccinations, but to meet the target of offering all eligible people their booster jab by the end of January next year, capacity needs to expand,’ he said.
‘These are sensible, temporary measures that will address some of the bureaucratic demands on practices and have minimal impact on the care patients receive in general practice, allowing GPs and our teams to focus their efforts where currently most clinically necessary.’
The measures to free up GPs to help with the booster campaign comes despite the fact the third jabs will not be available to the under 40s for another 10 days.
The JCVI letter revealed the NHS website would not be updated to accept the new three month waiting time between the second and third dose of the Covid vaccine, which was changed to enable the under 40s to get the jab, until 13 December.
The letter also highlighted that while the health service was already under pressure, it stressed there was a ‘new national mission’ after ministers set the challenge for the NHS to offer boosters to all adults in just 62 days.
Recent NHS figures on GP appointments in England revealed that nearly four in 10 consultations (35.6 per cent) were still not-in-person in October despite health secretary Sajid Javid issuing a stark warning to practices to get back to pre-pandemic levels, when over 80 per cent were face to face.
But Mr Javid changed his tune in the wake of Omicron arriving in the UK, stating that getting third doses into people’s arms to protect against the new variant was the ‘new national mission’, after months of strong-arming GPs into seeing more non-Covid patients in-person.
A lack of face-to-face appointments was key sticking point between Mr Javid GPs with the former at one point saying practices that failed to provide enough of them would be named and shamed.
He also warned that a lack of GP appointments was leading to frustrated patients turning up to busy A&E departments worried about their health.
The letter from the JCVI comes as the first case in Wales of the Omicron variant was confirmed.
The case is in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area and is linked to international travel, the Welsh Government said.
While figures showed Covid infections have increased in all four UK nations and remain close to record levels, though the latest rise is not linked to the arrival of the Omicron variant.
An extra 2million face to face GP appointments were held in October but are still a far cry from pre-pandemic levels
Despite the total A&E admissions in England being just two per cent more than August and equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month (October) in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier
Around one in 60 people in private households in England had Covid in the week to 27 November, up from one in 65 the previous week, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The proportion of people in England who were estimated to have coronavirus at the peak of the second wave in early January was one in 50.
This led to a surge in hospital admissions and deaths, along with a nationwide lockdown.
However, No 10 ruled out making vaccines compulsory, as has been seen in Austria and is being considered in Germany.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters: ‘We’ve set out our policy on this and we’ve said it’s not something that we would look to introduce.
‘You’re aware of the changes we made in terms of social care settings and for NHS workers, given the importance of protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
‘But there’s no plans above and beyond that in that regard.’
He added: ‘Our priority is to continue to promote vaccinations and promote boosters now that we are rolling out more and more boosters to more and more people.
‘That is our priority, that’s our focus, and that’s what we’re asking people to come forward and take.’
Meanwhile, partygoers were urged to ‘keep calm and carry on’ with their Christmas festivities despite scientists raising the alarm about the risks associated with gathering for social events.
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said his party had no intention of cancelling its own Christmas drinks, and others should continue with their celebrations.
No 10 said any staff parties held at Downing Street in the run-up to Christmas would be ‘private events’ that would not be publicly announced.
Asked if he would inform reporters if there were plans for a Christmas party for staff, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Obviously, events that happen in No10 that are private events, we wouldn’t inform you.
‘We obviously wouldn’t set out details of private functions in No 10 but, as I say, there will be festive events in the run-up to Christmas.’
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who received his booster dose of the Covid vaccine on Thursday, urged the public to “continue as they are” within the new measures introduced to stop the spread of the virus, following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Senior Tories, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid, have looked to encourage the public to hold firm to their pre-Christmas plans, with the hospitality industry warning it had suffered a ‘slew of cancellations’ after Omicron sparked fresh safety fears.
Mr Dowden told Sky News: ‘The message to people, I think, is fairly straightforward – which is: keep calm, carry on with your Christmas plans.’