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New rules for GP study leave and locum payments

Dr Bob Button looks at how the new contract guidance affects payments for prolonged study leave and locum cover

The old Red Book and the new statement of financial entitlement (SFE) are very similar. However, one change is that prolonged study leave absence may now be considered irrespective of length of service elapsed. Also the LMC needs to have agreed with the PCT the relevant criteria regarding the resulting locum payments. Claims for prolonged study leave are now broken into two parts:

 · Payment of an education allowance to the GP performer

 · Payment of an allowance to the contractor, in respect of locum employment.

Note that now it is a 'GP performer' who is entitled to the prolonged study leave: no longer is leave restricted to a partner in the practice. So a situation could arise where a young doctor comes to work in the practice on a contract enabling him to apply for prolonged study leave.

A problem here will be to persuade the PCT that the absence will benefit not only the NHS but the PCT as well. A GP training to be a general practitioner with a special interest (GPSI), for example, might well be acceptable.

Should the claim be approved by the PCT, then providing the director of postgraduate education has agreed the course of study, the performer can claim up to £129.50 per week as an educational allowance.

Prolonged study for a period of less than 10 weeks will not be considered. The whole period of absence must not be more than a year.

Doubtless there will be criteria applied by the directors of education which will be discussed by the educational authorities and which will be brought to bear when an application is made to determine whether it should be accepted.

The PCT might also entertain a claim from the contractor seeking to employ a locum to fill some or all of the absent doctor's time in the practice.

Remember that the PCT has discretion in these matters and that the criteria, which will be agreed with the LMC, will also be bound by conditions laid down in the SFE.

The PCT will have to be satisfied that:

 · A locum is necessary and other members of the practice cannot cover the work

 · The proposed locum is not a partner or an employee of the practice, unless the performer concerned is in a job-share relationship inside the practice

 · Permission was sought before the locum was employed

 · The PCT cannot provide a locum itself (if it says it can provide one, the contractor can challenge this on the grounds that the locum is unacceptable; however, it must provide a good reason ­ unfortunately the definition of good reason is not yet clear)

 · A locum will also not be considered necessary if somebody else has filled the absent performer's role and they have no job to come back to.

Should all these provisos be satisfactorily negotiated, then the contractor can look forward to a payment of £948.33 per week and, at 2004/5 rates, for a full-time locum replacement.

The contractor may make a claim at the end of each month for locum reimbursement and must be prepared to provide the necessary written evidence that payments have been made to the locum.

The contractor must also ensure there have been no changes of circumstance since the application was forwarded to the PCT.

Upon satisfactory completion of these procedures, the PCT is required to pay the contractor the relevant amount no later than one month after the claim, and usually on the date on which the contractor receives their regular monthly global sum payment.

Bob Button

is chief executive

of Wessex LMCs

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