GPs may have to stop routine health checks to "focus on the sickest patients" thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, the British Medical Association has warned.
While the Government has been slammed for failing to focus on GP surgeries amid the spread as patients with diabetes and long-term heart and lung problems face missing out on crucial appointments.
Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA GPs committee, told the BBC cases of Covid-19 are anticipated to "rise rapidly" in the coming weeks.
This could lead to increased waiting times for patients with mild health conditions and is "likely to continue for at least a few weeks, if not months", he warned.
"We will need to stop doing much of the routine work that we do week-by-week to enable us to focus on the sickest patients and prioritise those who most need us," Dr Vautrey said.
"Practices that are routinely doing routine health checks, assessing blood pressure , diabetic control, and long-term problems with heart and lung disease – those routine checks will need to stop."
Dr Vautrey said GPs will need to prioritise not only those with potential coronavirus, but also the "sickest patients" who need continuous care.
He said: "It does mean that some patients may have to wait longer than normal to see their GP.
"It's likely to continue for at least a few weeks, if not months. And it's quite possible that there will be more than one wave of infection."
It comes after three-quarters of 402 GPs surveyed by GPonline said routine appointments should be suspended in the event of a widespread coronavirus outbreak.
One in five thought this should happen now, in the survey published on Monday.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) criticised the Government for being "insufficiently focused" on GP surgeries amid the outbreak.
Professor Martin Marshall told Londonwide LMCs conference on Tuesday he had been inundated with emails from GPs concerned about a lack of information.
"Overall it feels like the Government are doing a reasonable job, but it does feel that they are more focused on hospitals and much more focused on NHS 111 and insufficiently focused on general practice," he said.
"General practice is going to start feeling the pressure probably in quite a significant way."
He told delegates in London that a widespread Covid-19 outbreak could be "the biggest issue the NHS has ever seen".
Last week, NHS England issued guidance to GPs which said hundreds of protective kits, including aprons, examination gloves and face masks, would soon be issued to every practice.
The letter, from Nikita Kanani, medical director for primary care, advised that practices replace face-to-face appointments with phone or video consultations to mitigate the risk of infected patients turning up to a surgery.
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