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NHS England axes funding for GP occupational health support unless ‘performance concerns’ are raised

GPs suffering exhaustion and stress will no longer be provided with any centrally funded occupational health support unless there are formal concerns about their performance, NHS England has announced.

Managers have confirmed that their review into the occupational health services formerly provided by PCTs in England will recommend that funding is withdrawn for all GPs from April, unless there is a performance issue or a GP requires an additional assessment when registering for the first time on the national performers list.

GP leaders have hit out at the ‘disgraceful’ decision, which comes at a time when increasing numbers of GPs are seeking support with stress-related mental health concerns.

Pulse published figures last year as part of its Battling Burnout campaign showing almost half of GPs are at risk of burnout and that one in 11 GPs has taken time off work due to stress or burnout within the past 12 months.

Official figures show that around a third of GPs have no occupational health support currently and NHS England said it would shortly publish a paper that will propose ruling out universal funding of occupational health services for GPs in all areas in England.

GPs as employers will also be asked to foot the bill for all occupational health services provided by NHS England to practice staff.

At the same time, NHS England said that the review will conclude that GPs wishing to be included on the performers list for the first time will have to self-fund an occupational health assessment, although any further assessments will be paid for.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England will be funding an equitable service across… independent contractors with the priority being [occupational health] services for performers on the national performers list where there are concerns about performance, [and] services for applicants to the national performers list whose preliminary health screening for fitness to work is not sufficient to give us assurance that they have no health issues.’

‘We will commission services that can be used by primary care providers for staff in primary care – but funding will be from the employers.’

NHS England said that it hoped the new policy would be in place by April.

GP leaders said they were appalled by the results of the NHS England review.

Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard labelled the decision ‘disgraceful’.

He said: ‘I think that at a time when ever-increasing numbers of doctors are requiring help with mental health issues due to problems with stress, to remove occupational health funding is nothing less than bizarre. It shows a complete and callous regard for the workforce on which the Government is reliant for pushing through changes to the NHS.’

‘Occupational health services do not only support GPs with mental health concerns, but also with rehabilitation, for example after serious injury. If you really want to wait until it becomes a performance issue, and patients have suffered, then it is too late.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said that the GPC was concerned about the move, and would be speaking with NHS England.

He said: ‘We believe practices should be provided with an occupational health service, particularly as more and more GPs are suffering burnout as a result of the workload pressures NHS England are failing to deal with.’

‘We also question the reason for introducing yet another cost for young doctors joining the performers list. We haven’t had an explanation as to why this new occupational health assessment is necessary when all doctors will have been working previously in the NHS at the time of application, and on what grounds a doctor would be prohibited from joining the performers list but be deemed well enough to work elsewhere in the NHS. This seems to us yet more unnecessary and costly bureaucracy.’