Smear tests and other routine procedures should be paused, insists GP

A British doctor has said routine procedures, including taking blood and performing smear tests, should be paused until the coronavirus outbreak is under control.

Boris Johnson is expected to move to the delay phase of tackling the UK spread of Covid-19, which would mean social distancing measures could be brought in, such as restricting public gatherings and issuing more widespread advice to stay at home.

However, Dr Helen Salisbury told the PA news agency those working in primary care are “not prepared” and routine procedures should be paused until the outbreak is over.

The Oxford-based GP said: “We have got our politicians saying carry on as normal, just wash your hands a bit more.

“It’s only a matter of time until we have more people with this illness coming into the surgeries.

“We should stop doing routine procedures, including taking blood pressure and doing smear tests. We have patients visiting us who have long-term conditions but who are not currently ill and we need to protect them.”

She said the risk of infection outweighs the risk of not performing such procedures, adding: “With smear tests, it is largely preventative and stopping them for six months would not make a huge difference. It is mitigating that risk to patients. There’s going to be a catching up period and we are going to be really busy afterwards, but it’s about prevention.”

Dr Salisbury said the actual number of infections in Britain could be significantly higher than current official figures suggest.

Some patients have seen scheduled operations and appointments cancelled as NHS trusts prepare for an increase in capacity due to the virus.

Dr Salisbury said: “One of the most worrying things is the criteria for testing is still travel-based or if you’ve had contact with someone who has travelled. It’s completely out of date.

“The figures we have are falsely reassuring. We know there is community spread and we are not testing these people.

“For every one case we know about there are probably dozens of others.”

She said more needs to be done to “flatten the curve” of infections.

She added: “I do not want people to be scared but I would rather people stay safe.

“Italy is totally overwhelmed and they are much better resourced than us. They had more bed capacity at the start – there is no slack in the NHS.”

A medical registrar who asked to remain anonymous said that although she is pleased with the measures brought in by her trust, there is still “potential for this to be quite serious”.

The London-based doctor said: “I think the problem with this is the not knowing. Are we going to be like China, where they seem to have contained the virus with measures like social distancing, or are we going to end up like Italy?

“Hopefully, it will just end up being a rocky few months – we can look back and say this was a pretty horrible summer, rather than something more serious.”