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Covid-19: Government urged to clarify plans to draft in retirees

by Awil Mohamoud
13 March 2020

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The government must provide clarity on its plan to bring retired doctors back into the workforce to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak, MPs have urged. 

Earlier this month the health secretary suggested introducing ‘emergency registration’ for retired doctors as part of its Covid-19 ‘battle plan’.

However, MPs have criticised the government for not providing any real detail about how this would work in practice.

Conservative MP and part-time NHS psychiatrist Dr Dan Poulter said he found the ‘lack of detail’ provided by Number 10 to be ‘concerning’ and added it needs to do some ‘urgent thinking’ about how it will temporarily increase the workforce, the Guardian reported.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also called for ‘urgent clarity from government’. 

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘If the government is serious about recruiting retired doctors back into the NHS to deal with Covid-19, it must make the plans and details known to facilitate this in an effective way’.

What we know so far

As an incentive to rejoin, the government plans to fully fund indemnity cover for retired GPs.

Health minister Jo Churchill this week said the General Medical Council (GMC) already has the powers and procedures to register doctors in an emergency and that the government ‘is working with the GMC and others on their plans’.

The Medical & Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) said it has also ‘radically simplified and shortened’ its rejoining process for its 7,000 retired members.

The pharmacy regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), has opened the door to re-registering up to 5,800 retired pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. This would apply to former registrants ‘who were voluntarily removed and whose fitness to practise is not impaired’.

As well as looking to retirees, the government has also aired the idea of drafting in clinical medical students to boost NHS staff numbers. 

On Wednesday (11 March), NHS England head Sir Simon Stevens announced that 18,000 third-year undergraduate students will be invited to ‘help out on the front line’. 

However, a universities group has warned there must be ‘clarity’ around the roles that students will perform to ensure they are working ‘within their competencies’.

There are currently 590 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the UK. So far, eight people who tested positive have died.