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NHS England updates locum cover payments protocol following GPC pressure

by Valeria Fiore
13 November 2018

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GP practices will be repaid for the costs of locums covering for GP partners gradually returning to work, following clarification from NHS England.
Local commissioners will be asked to reimburse the costs of locums covering for GP partners returning to work after sick leave on ‘phased return or adjusted hours’.
This comes as NHS England updated its protocol on locum cover payments for GP performers on sick leave and phased return last month.
The clarification was issued as some local commissioners have refused to reimburse the costs of locum covers, according to the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee (GPC). 
Although the protocol hasn’t been published yet, an extract of it was circulated through an NHS Employers FAQs document.  
The update comes as NHS England conceded to the GPC’s position that ‘when GP partners return from sick leave on phased return certified by Med3, the Statement of Financial Entitlements (SFEs) mandates that practices must be reimbursed the cost of their cover in exactly the same way as if the partner was still completely off sick’.
GPC contracts and regulations lead Dr Robert Morley challenged the issue in the West Midlands in April leading the GPC to contest this matter nationally and resulting in NHS England’s decision to update its protocol to leave no room for misunderstandings about covering the costs of locums filling in for GP partners.
The GPC said this was always in the SFEs but that NHS England local teams had been misinterpreting them, with practices rongfully denied payments they were entitled to.
Dr Morley told Management in Practice: ‘We’re very happy that NHS England, following pressure from GPC, has updated its guidance to make this abundantly clear to CCGs nationally.
‘It’s only right that practices be reimbursed for all sessions where cover is required when a GP returns from sickness absence on reduced sessions, and that this should apply regardless of whether the absent GP is a partner or salaried.’
‘With general practice in the grip of such a massive recruitment and retention crisis, it’s imperative that practices are appropriately funded to pay for staff absences and cover, and supported in helping valuable and hard-working GPs back to work after any time away.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Under the GP contract some decisions on locum reimbursement fall to individual CCGs or local commissioners.
‘When local variation causes any concern, NHS England works with partners to ensure policy and procedures are being implemented fairly and proportionately at a local level and where appropriate, as in this case, will clarify the position with local commissioners.’