Doctors’ leaders have welcomed plans to allow GPs in England to defer some services to deliver Covid booster jabs instead.
Practices can postpone minor surgery and routine health checks for over-75s and new patients until 31 March.
All adults in England are expected to be offered boosters by the end of January in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
A further 75 Omicron cases were confirmed in England on Friday.
Those cases took the total for England to 104. Since then, Scotland has recorded one further case on Saturday, taking the total for the UK as a whole to 135 – including one confirmed case in Wales.
On Saturday the UK reported a further 42,848 cases of coronavirus and 127 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test while 372,557 booster jabs were administered on Friday.
Dr Farah Jameel, the GP committee chair of the British Medical Association, said the new measures would release GPs from “filling out paperwork” and chasing unnecessary and often undeliverable targets.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have been struggling with significant prevailing workforce pressures – backlog pressures, winter pressures, pandemic pressures.
“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.”
Dr Jameel said the measures would allow staff to prioritise the most vulnerable patients and support the “national priority” to vaccinate people as quickly as possible.
She insisted patients who were unwell or had worrying symptoms would continue to receive care from their GPs.
The plans would see GPs asked to defer treatment for the over-75s where it was clinically appropriate to do so.
Dr Gary Howsam, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, said “capacity needs to expand” in order to meet the target of offering all eligible people a booster jab by the end of January.
“These are sensible, temporary measures that will address some of the bureaucratic demands on practices and have minimal impact on the care patients receive in general practice, allowing GPs and our teams to focus their efforts where currently most clinically necessary,” Dr Howsam said.
However, Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, a campaign group for older people, said NHS England’s proposals were a “blatant case of age discrimination” that suggested “once you reach the age of 75 your health is of less importance than the rest of the population”.
He said deferring checks for the early warning signs of illnesses such as strokes, cancers and diabetes was “counter-productive” as it would see patients “pushed out of primary care” and being treated in hospitals, which he said would not help with the burden on the NHS.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of an expansion of boosters on Tuesday followed a series of recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
As well as recommending that all over-18s in the UK should be offered top-up vaccines, the JCVI said the minimum gap between the second dose and boosters should be cut from six to three months.