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GPs initiate private insurance scheme after NHS England removes occupational health service

Exclusive GPs have set up their own private insurance scheme because the local area team has removed an ‘exemplary’ occupational health and psychiatric treatment service, Pulse has learned.

The out-of-hours provider in Devon and Cornwall has given individual GPs the opportunity to purchase full occupational health support insurance for £150 a year, while practices can pay £170 to cover physical health support for five practice staff, which includes a ‘locum’ spot that covers temporary staff.

It launched the new service with the backing of the LMC following the ‘wilful destruction’ of the previously excellent occupational health service, which saw funding removed for mental health assessment and treatment, and for practice staff occupational health.

GP leaders in the region said that GPs were willing to take part in the scheme because of the importance they held the occupational health service in, following the local area team’s withdrawal of funding.

The changes to the local occupational health service came after NHS England last year bowed to demand highlighted by Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign and agreed to fund a national occupational health service for every GP.

But, seven months after its planned roll out date, NHS England has not published national service standards and Pulse reported its commitment to standardising services had the adverse effect of levelling down service in Devon and Cornwall – a service the GPC has described as ‘exemplary’.

As a result of the local area team’s decision, Devon Doctors On Call (DDOC) – who operate the current occupational health service – pledged to continue the existing service until the end of May without charge to practices.

In the meantime, a survey of Devon and Cornwall GPs by Devon LMC revealed that 57% would be willing to pay to go as far as a compulsory insurance-style scheme to continue a full occupation health service.

Following this, DDOC developed a non-compulsory private insurance-style scheme for practice staff and GPs from June.

The offer made by DDOC to GP practices states that the £150 per year will entitle each GP to have access to: ‘a full psychological assessment plus written report as needed; follow-up assessment plus report; a treatment block of up to 10 sessions as required; and a specialist physical assessment and report, where necessary, for the completion of applications for early retirement on ill-health grounds.’

The service will also allow non-members, who did not buy an annual membership, to spot purchase assessment and treatment, but this will incur a surcharge cost of £2,469 for a 10 session block.

Angela Edmunds, director of operations at Devon LMC told Pulse that local GPs thought the scheme was important enough to self-fund a dedicated practitioner health programme.

She said: ‘One minute you’re referring the patient in front of you, and the next minute you’re sitting next to them in the waiting room to see the psychiatrist. How does that feel for the patient when you’re offering some care to them?’

GPC negotiator and Cornwall GP Dr Beth McCarron-Nash told Pulse that the GPC disagreed with the local area team’s decision.

She said: ‘What we should be doing is levelling up, and the support that Devon and Cornwall GPs have had is exemplary, and that is the model that should have been rolled out across the country.

‘That’s what we’ve been pushing for and as usual NHS England have taken the decision that we’re going to level down.’

The local area team had previously offered full occupational health services for all staff, as well as psychological assessments for all GPs.

However, it said last year that it would reduce these services and only offer occupational health services relating to blood-borne virus, performer’s list application assessments and an occupational health or psychiatric assessment for GPs already demonstrating performance issues.

An NHS England local area team spokesperson said: ‘In line with national policy, private psychological therapies in Devon and Cornwall will only be funded by NHS England from April 2015 in cases where practitioners might face performance issues or in other special circumstances practitioners already undergoing therapy will be funded to the end of their course.

‘We are in ongoing discussions with LMCs about alternative sources of funding to sustain the previous level of private service, but are unable to continue with this commitment, which has been met for the past two years since NHS England was created.’

Pulse is currently running a national survey of GP burnout to assess the levels of workload and mental health stress amongst the profession.

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