GPs given green light to postpone some services to focus on booster jab rollout

GPs have been given the green light to push back some of their services so they can better focus on delivering Covid-19 booster jabs.

Minor surgery and routine health checks for the over-75s and new patients may be deferred until the end of March, said NHS chiefs.

Following the decision to ramp up the vaccination programme in a bid to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant, NHS England has told GPs other targets may be suspended and other checks can be deferred.

The move comes as a further 75 Omicron cases were confirmed in England on Friday and Wales reported its first, bringing the total number of confirmed UK cases to 134.

Earlier in the week, the government announced it was extending booster jabs to all over-18s in the UK and halving the time between the second and third doses from six to three months.

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Ministers have promised a “national mission” to ensure everyone who is eligible can get a booking by the end of January, but have acknowledged it represents a “huge ask” for the NHS.

Doctors’ leaders have welcomed the move to ease the workload of GPs - but warned practices remain under “significant” pressure.

Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA’s England GP committee, said reducing the amount of “unnecessary” appointments would create some additional capacity, but that individual practices would have to decide how much they could switch to delivering Covid jabs.

“We have been struggling with significant prevailing workforce pressures – backlog pressures, winter pressures, pandemic pressures,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“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.

“What it will do is free up staff time who are busy filling some of these tick-box exercises, so some of our staff can be redeployed to the vaccination effort.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid met with the World Health Organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus over the latest findings on the Omicron variant, describing the meeting as “productive”.

On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) said a further 75 cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in England amid signs of a “small amount” of community infection.

The latest cases take the total for England to 104 and for the UK as a whole to 134 – including 29 in Scotland and the first confirmed case in Wales.

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The HSA said that in England Omicron cases have now been identified in East Midlands, East of England, London, North East, North West, South East, South West and West Midlands.

Individuals who have tested positive for the variant and their contacts are being asked to self-isolate while the HSA said it was carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were thought likely to be infectious.