The NHS has set out plans for the second phase of the epidemic, including stepping up non-Covid-19 urgent services over the next six weeks as it attempts to return to normal.
In a letter to local trusts and GPs, the head of NHS England said urgent outpatient appointments should go ahead and routine surgery could be restarted.
But GPs are encouraged to continue to use online consultations.
Regular testing will be offered to all staff – even those with no symptoms.
The letter, written by chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard, sets out the NHS’s approach in the coming weeks, following a drop of nearly 5,000 hospital patients with Covid-19 per day over the past two weeks in England.
It says the pressure on many staff will “remain unprecedented” and employers must keep them safe.
Staff from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, who could be at greater risk from the virus, should be “risk-assessed” as a precaution.
Public Health England has already been asked to look into data suggesting ethnic minorities may be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
The letter’s other recommendations include:
- restarting routine elective surgery, with priority given to “long waiters”
- protecting and delivering cancer surgery and treatment, by ensuring cancer hubs are working properly
- bringing back cancer referrals and diagnostic appointments to “pre-Covid19 levels”
- ensuring heart-attack and stroke patients receive the care they need
- GPs contacting patients “shielding” at home
There have been concerns people are not seeking medical care as they normally would because they are afraid catching the virus and over-burdening the NHS, putting their long-term health at risk.
The letter says there has also been a reduction in road traffic accidents and major trauma during the lockdown – and it is uncertain when the “rebound in emergency demand” will happen.
The letter also says:
- Nightingale and independent hospitals will still be required, in case there is another surge in demand for beds
- it is likely the flu vaccine programme will be “substantially expanded” this winter
- the proportion of GP consultations on phone or video has risen from 10% to 85%
And it encourages GPs – and hospital outpatient departments, unless there is a good reason not to – to continue to use online consultation so patients can be “directed to the most appropriate member of the practice team straight away”.