GPs will focus on the most serious cases as practices across NHS Lanarkshire suspend services as it continues to creak under the weight of the latest coronavirus surge.

The health board, which remains at the highest black alert level, said for the next four weeks all GP surgeries will be moved to a “managed suspension of services” and will only focus on the most urgent and time-critical care.

Dr Linda Findlay, medical director at South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “This change to GP practices will help us deal with the continuing challenges in community services and help reduce the pressure across the whole system, including our acute hospitals which are under sustained pressure.”

NHS Lanarkshire said it is dealing with record Covid case numbers and ongoing staff sickness absences.

GPs will continue to deliver services, it insisted, but will focus on urgent care, including the assessment of people with respiratory or coronavirus symptoms.

Dr Keith McIntyre, chairman of Lanarkshire GP sub-committee, said: “People should continue to contact their GP practice for urgent issues, such as if they think they have symptoms of cancer.”

He said doctors are asking residents for their “continued help and support during this challenging time”, and he highlighted a “number of alternatives where people can turn to for health care”, including local pharmacies, the NHS Inform website and NHS24, which he said will allow GP surgeries to “focus on the most urgent of cases”.

He added: “The services provided under this change will vary between practices depending on their individual circumstances.

“However, GPs will continue to see patients in-person as and when it is appropriate.”

In October, NHS Lanarkshire declared a black alert and said it was at critical occupancy levels because of overall pressure on the health system.

At the time, the health board’s deputy chief executive Laura Ace said the sustained pressure was “unprecedented” and showed no signs of easing.