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Local banks of GPs working ‘flexibly’ to be introduced across England

by Costanza Pearce
3 August 2020

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GP practices will be able to make use of salaried GPs who work flexibly across local areas via new ‘banks’ of doctors, the Government has announced.

The NHS People Plan, published last Thursday (30 July), said that building on the ‘flexible working changes’ brought about by Covid-19 is ‘crucial’ for retaining staff across the NHS.

This will also include encouraging practices and PCNs to offer ‘more flexible roles’ to salaried GPs.

The People Plan said: ‘NHS England and NHS Improvement will work with professional bodies to apply the same principles for flexible working in primary care, which is already more flexible than other parts of the NHS. 

‘Building on pilots, it will encourage GP practices and primary care networks to offer more flexible roles to salaried GPs and support the establishment of banks of GPs working flexibly in local systems.’

It added that PCNs should ‘prioritise’ recruiting temporary staff from staff banks ‘before more expensive agency and locum options’.

The plan said: ‘When recruiting temporary staff, systems, trusts and primary care networks should prioritise the use of bank staff before more expensive agency and locum options and reducing the use of ‘off framework’ agency shifts during 2020/21. 

‘Through its Bank Programme, NHS England and NHS Improvement will work with employers and systems to improve existing staff banks’ performance on fill rates and staff experience, aiming by 31 March 2021 to increase the number of staff registered with banks.’

Flexible working should form part of ‘standard induction conversations’ for new starters and annual appraisals, the document added.

It said: ‘Requesting flexibility – whether in hours or location – should not require a justification, and as far as possible should be offered regardless of role, team, organisation and grade.’

NHS England added that it will develop online ‘guidance and training’ on flexible working by December 2020.

This will provide ‘the tools to develop and assess applications for flexible working, with a view to supporting flexibility as a default’, it said.

The plan also said that the pandemic has seen ‘more than 500 GPs returning to work alongside 1,000 locums and other GPs to support the Coronavirus Clinical Assessment Service (CCAS)’.

And it said HEE is ‘exploring the development of a return to practice scheme’ for doctors in the remainder of 2020/21, which would create ‘a route from temporary professional registration back to full registration’.

According to the Government, a recent survey of returners to health and social care revealed around half were interested in continuing after the pandemic.

Commenting on the launch of the plan, health secretary Matt Hancock said‘Every single person working in the NHS has contributed to an unprecedented national effort to beat back this virus and save lives. They have protected us and in return this government will do everything in its power to protect and support them. 

‘By making the NHS the best place to work we’ll recruit and retain more talent and deliver 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors in general practice and 26,000 staff primary care professionals.

‘Our NHS people deserve to get on with caring for patients and this crisis has proved there’s bureaucracy that our healthcare system can do better without. So I’m urging people across the NHS and social care to speak up about what red tape you can do without to allow you to better deliver the high-quality care you are renowned for.’

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said he was encouraged to see the plan highlighting ‘several areas for improvement that the BMA has been calling for’, including ‘a focus on wellbeing, research and education, equality and diversity and flexible working’.

But he called for clarity on the scale of plans to extend the workforce; more detail on how the Government intends to retain staff; and for the plan to factor in the wider demand being placed on the NHS due to the Covid-19 backlog.

He said: ‘What is important now is delivering these plans in a timely manner so that these long-overdue aspirations become reality… Delivering this will require new resources; it is vital that the Government matches these ambitions with a transparent long-term costed funding plan that delivers these long-overdue changes.’