Nurse in blue overalls taking care of the patients

In a move that many see as long overdue, doctors in hospitals around the UK have been told to refocus their efforts on patients with severe health issues and on diagnosis, rather than simply focusing on immunisation against COVID-19 variants and booster shots. 

This was after NHS England expressed concern that the exclusive focus on immunisation was putting patients at risk of serious illness.

The focus on COVID-19 has recently led to the cancellation of millions of appointments by those who were suffering from a variety of conditions, including potentially life-threatening conditions such as cancer – a situation that has caused alarm in the corridors of power.  

The instruction from Prime Minister Johnsons’ office had previously been for Doctors to prioritise immunisations and ignore less serious conditions. 

However, the cancellation of appointments places those who have not yet been diagnosed, as well as those suffering from serious illness at risk. Without a diagnosis, many people will simply not receive the care that they require. 

This is especially serious given that many conditions are time-sensitive – any delay in treatment can have serious consequences. It seems that it was a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A ‘non-urgent’ medical issue can quickly morph into something far more serious.

Medical Director of primary care for NHS England, Dr Nikki Kanani has told doctors to resume business as usual due to the fact that demand for booster shots was waning. 

In a letter to medical staff, she said: ‘This further guidance… recognises that as we approach the end of January, we anticipate there will be lower demand for boosters.

‘It is now important that all services across the NHS, including in primary care, are able to restore routine services where these were paused in line with the Prime Minister’s request to focus all available resources on the Omicron national mission.’

She added that tasks such as the management of long-term conditions, screening, annual health checks, including suspected cancer and addressing the backlog of cases should be focus areas. The letter also urged that face-to-face consultations, rather than remote interactions should once more become standard practice.

The move has been welcomed by a variety of stakeholders, including the Royal College of GPs, Age UK, campaign group Silver Voices and the British Medical Association.

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