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Locum cover payments will rise 6.5 per cent to maximum £948

By Nerys Hairon

GPs will get a maximum of £948 per week to cover locum costs for partners on maternity, paternity and adoptive leave or long-term sickness absence ­ a 6.5 per cent rise on Red Book payments.

But primary care organisations will retain the power to award practices less or refuse to meet locum costs.

PCOs have been advised not to reimburse a practice if it has turned down a PCO offer to employ a locum, or if the GP on leave has decided not to return to work.

PCOs remain obliged to reimburse singlehanded practices or job-sharers in a singlehanded practice for locum cover.

Practices must ensure their PCO has agreed to reimburse locum costs and has agreed the rate before employing a locum for sick leave.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said the new arrangements were an improvement on the Red Book.

'The timings for locum cover reimbursement for sickness absence are more advantageous now, as we made the case they were unfair,' he said.

Where a partner in a group practice is off sick for less than two weeks, PCOs would only be expected to reimburse for locum cover if each remaining GP was left with more than 3,600 patients. For sick leave of up to six weeks, the remaining GPs' lists would have to be more than 3,100.

For longer than six weeks, GPs' lists would have to be more than 2,700 each to qualify for locum reimbursement.

GPs' right to prolonged study leave has also been enshrined in the contract. GPs taking study leave may be entitled to an educational allowance of £129.50 a week.

Practices will get a contribution up to £948 a week towards employing a locum for study leave of up to a year.

Cover for suspended GPs has also been retained. For paternity leave and adoptive leave for the parent who is not the main carer, practices will be entitled to locum cover reimbursement for two weeks.

For ordinary maternity leave of 26 weeks, and adoptive leave for the main carer of 26 weeks, PCTs must cover practices' locum costs.

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