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GPs to self-refer to fitness-to-work assessments under new national service

GPs will have access to needle stick services and be able to refer themselves to a service that will assess their fitness to work under a new national occupational health service.

GPs will have access to needle stick services and be able to refer themselves to a service that will assess their fitness to work under a new national occupational health service.

NHS England has released details of the new national occupational health support service, which was first pledged in 2014 and takes over from the patchy local arrangements that currently exist.

It follows Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign, which has been calling for comprehensive mental health support to be available to all GPs while revealing that excellent occupational health services have been struggling because of a lack of funding.

But the current service specification does not include details about the psychological support service, which is expected to be announced shortly. 

GP leaders said that while the national specification ensures all GPs will have some occupational health support, it will be a ‘retrograde step’ in areas that had previously offered a more comprehensive service.

They also condemned the ‘short-sighted’ decision to withhold NHS funding to support practice staff.

The new ’National Primary Care Occupational Health Service Specification’ ensures GPs on the national performers list will have access to an ‘enhanced occupational health assessment’, where they can self refer to assess whether they are fit to continue working. 

The GP’s medical director, appraiser and their own GP will also be able to refer them to the service, but can only do so with the individual’s consent.

The specification states: ‘The occupational health service supplier(s) will obtain and interpret medical and other information where necessary; and will provide advice; including a written report concerning the performer/employee’s health and the impact it may have on their ability to perform their duties.’

GPs will also have access to needle stick services: virology testing, blood borne virus vaccinations, immunisations and urgent and long-term management of GPs exposed to a blood borne virus.

The service will be available ‘normal working hours’ Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays. But a 24/7 out-of-hours advice line will be in operation ‘to direct primary care staff to A&E.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘While having an occupational service commissioned for the whole of England would be a step forward for some areas where there has been next to no service available for many years, this service will be a retrograde step for those areas that have previously invested in a comprehensive service for GPs and their staff.’

He added that NHS England should be ‘commissioning a full service for all those who work in GP practices as all staff could need the same access to occupational health services’.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens pledged in September last year that area teams would this month begin procuring a new national GP occupational health service, which would include psychological support based on services such as the London Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) set up by former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada. 

Professor Gerada said she was anticipating delays with this component: ‘It’s meant to come out at the end of April, but we think there’s a lot of slippage there.’

On Monday, the Welsh Government announced it would invest £200m to ensure GPs could have access to the same occupational and pastoral health support as directly-employed staff, though GPC Wales also called for this to be extended to practice staff.


Readers' comments (5)

  • not far enough?

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  • Good
    But when will NHSE deal with a major cause of burnout ?

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  • The service will be available normal working hours....

    so if that is the same as junior doctors that means 24 hours a day, 7 days a week....

    Or is there a different definition of normal working days for junior doctors and the department of health?

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  • This is not good or fit at all.
    This is Brownism at its worst. Take with one hand, give with another. Tax credits for professionals.
    The deduction in payment or some fees will follow.
    How about a shocking idea of either paying us decently so we can afford our own counsellor or stop messing with my life and work so I can expect to keep my sanity.

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  • Which service is available during 'working hours'- the needle-stick stuff and the Occ Health?

    Please clarify so the next time I awake at 2am with a panic attack and suicidal ideation at the thought of work in the morning I can be reassured to know I can attend A+E (after ringing the 24 hour advice line)to unload my emotional distress to some poor overworked young doctor who will probably reply, in that oft-heard refrain "Go and see your GP in the morning".

    I'm sure the more inventive amongst us could probably cobble together a scheme which unites needle-stick injuries and a visit to Occ Health which would probably have less devastating financial and career-related implications than being prevented from working due to admitting to the PTSD the job bestows on us.

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