Funding to cover maternity leave will be guaranteed for all GP practices under the new GP contract.
The 2015/16 GP contract deal will see rules for maternity, paternity, and adoption leave tightened to ensure that any practice that needs cover for a GP partner who has become a new parent will receive full funding from NHS England, removing the discretionary element of the provision.
In a letter to area teams, NHS England said the change will see all practices entitled to ‘reimbursement of the actual cost of GP locum cover for maternity/ paternity/ adoption leave of £1,113.74 for the first two weeks and £1,734.18 thereafter or the actual costs, whichever is the lower’.
‘Such reimbursement is intended to cover both external locums and cover provided by existing GPs within the practice who do not already work full time,’ it said. However, it does not specifiy for how long the practice will be entitled to the reimbursement.
The new contract will also iron out an oddity that meant funding was not available for part-time GPs to work extra hours within their own practice to provide cover for GPs on maternity leave. Cover previously had to be supplied by external locums, but now in-house GPs will be able to extend their hours on a temporary basis.
NHS England announced last year it was looking at all payments for locum cover made to GP practices to provide for maternity, paternity and adoption leave, as well as sickness absence.
More on the new GP contract
Until April last year, payments for locum cover for maternity leave and sick pay were determined on a PCT-by-PCT basis, and some PCTs did refuse to make discretionary payments to save money. Pulse reported last year that some NHS England local area teams had witheld discretionary payments.
In his letter to the profession announcing the contract changes, GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: ‘The significant changes we have secured in this area will provide more financial certainty for practices and greater flexibility to ensure appropriate arrangements for cover.’
Former president of the Medical Women’s Federation and a GP in Cambridge, Dr Fiona Cornish, said the change would remove the ‘postcode lottery’ of which practices would have their maternity cover paid for. And she said it would remove any possibility of practices being reluctant to take on young female partners for fear of having to pay for maternity cover.
‘This is really, really good news for both men and women, and level playing fields generally,’ she said.
Londonwide LMCs CEO Dr Michelle Drage argued that maternity and other new parenthood cover should never have been discretionary in the first place.
‘This is good news for doctors and good news for families,’ she said.
‘The only question is where is the money going to come from? There is a risk that NHS-administered funding like sick pay and locum pay could be hit, but in principle it’s very good news and let’s hope for more wins like this.’
However Bob Senior, chair of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants and head of medical services at Baker Tilly, argued that the reimbursment cost was not enough.
He said: ‘It’s certainly a lot less than it’s going to cost to back fill a locum in the modern climate, if you can find a locum. So some certainty is good, but it sounds as if they have trimmed some costs as one feared they would have done.’
‘It depends how long they’re going to keep paying after the first two weeks. Because that’s not spelled out, but certainly those weekly rates are not sounding very exciting by any means.’