Regulators will go easy on doctors who have to change their practise due to winter pressures in the next few months, they have promised.
In a joint letter to the profession, NHS England, the GMC, the CQC and the UK’s four chief medical officers said they ‘recognise this winter will be difficult’, with doctors ‘likely to have concerns about both the professional practicalities and implications of working under sustained pressure’.
The letter, dated last Friday (11 November), added that they were ‘committed to doing what we can to ensure you are, and feel, supported and safe’.
Going on to recognise that ‘there is already sustained additional demand across all sectors and settings of health and care provision’, the letter said this ‘is likely to be exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities’.
‘The impact on staff both personally and professionally will be significant and potentially prolonged throughout the coming months,’ the letter said, with the ‘challenging times’ meaning doctors ‘may need to depart from established procedures’.
The letter said: ‘Please be assured that your professional code and principles of practice are there to guide and support your judgments and decision-making in all circumstances.
‘This includes taking into account local realities and the need at times to adapt practice at times of significantly increased national pressure.
‘In the unlikely event that you are referred to your professional regulator, they will consider the context you were working in at the time, including all relevant resources, guidelines or protocols.’
Those expected to be ‘flexible in recognition of the challenging and changing landscape’ include ’employers, educational supervisors, professional bodies, and national health and social care organisations’, the letter said.
‘National regulators will also take into account the need to keep regulatory oversight proportionate at this busy time, whilst maintaining the focus on patient safety and protection of the public,’ it added.
And in January, the GMC said it would take into account ‘sustained fatigue’ experienced by GPs during the pandemic when assessing fitness-to-practise complaints.
NHS England’s primary care chief Dr Amanda Doyle confirmed last month that there will be ‘no additional’ winter funding to support GPs this winter amid a ‘tight’ financial situation.
She also admitted that the previously announced winter fund of £37m, which was repurposed from four PCN incentive scheme indicators that were deferred or scrapped, was ‘not a huge amount of money’.