A lack of robust digital systems and sustainable plans is leading to extra work for GPs, a British Medical Association (BMA) survey has revealed.

Due to reduced numbers of patients attending hospital because of the coronavirus pandemic, family doctors across the country are now expected to perform blood tests for hospital outpatients, prescribe medication that would normally be given in secondary care, and complete tests before making a possible cancer referral, which could lead to delays in treatment.

This is often due to a lack of digital solutions to enable hospital doctors to do this, as well as a lack of planning for alternatives in the community, the BMA found.

In fact, half of the 7,497 doctors who responded to the survey said that they were having to now provide care that would normally be delivered by secondary care colleagues.

And a further 81% said they had been asked to carry out new investigations and manage ongoing care, which would also usually be done in hospitals, further adding to GPs’ growing workload.

This additional workload is not only because the NHS is currently operating in the middle of global pandemic, but also, and fundamentally, because of a lack of robust IT systems and digital solutions to help secondary care colleagues to complete necessary tasks, leading to work transferred to GPs without sustainable services being put in place, according to the BMA.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, GP practices across the country were advised to embrace digital tools and assess patients online or via telephone and video appointments to mitigate the potential spread of coronavirus.

Digital Health News asked a number of providers how patient’s had used digital services during the pandemic and found telephone and text was preferred over video as it was more convenient.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s general practitioners committee, said: “The NHS was always going to see a drastic increase in patient demand as Covid-19 arrived in the UK, but this crisis has truly shone a light on the lack of robust IT systems across the health service and the tsunami of extra work increasingly placed on GPs as a result.

“This needs rapid action to deliver long-term solutions to improve the interface between secondary and primary care, and make sure we have the digital infrastructure in place to stop unnecessary prescribing, duplication of workload and extending patient pathways.

“The longer this goes on, the more at risk we are of losing talented healthcare professionals which is why we desperately need to reduce the burden of unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation such as CQC inspections, put in place better digital systems, and provide general practice with the funding needed to deliver new services.”