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GPs secure locum cover for colleagues gradually returning from sick leave

Exclusive GP practices will be reimbursed for locum cover when doctors are coming back from sick leave on a phased basis, following an NHS England u-turn.

The issue came to light as GP practices in the Birmingham area challenged decisions, made by NHS England Midlands and East, to withhold payments.

According to Birmingham LMC, the regional NHS England team only reimbursed practices for salaried GP absence for eight weeks rather than ‘the required 26’.

Following their concerns, the BMA’s GP Committee brought up the issue on a national level, reaching an agreement with NHS England, they told Pulse.

GPC contracts and regulations lead Dr Robert Morley, who also chairs Birmingham LMC, said in a letter to practices that he was ‘happy to report that NHS England has now fully conceded the LMC’s position that practices must be reimbursed… for all sessions where cover is required when a GP returns from sickness absences on reduced sessions’.

Dr Morley claimed this was always in the GP contractual terms and conditions, which NHS England had ‘misinterpreted’.

The Statement of Financial Entitlements (SFE) says that NHS England ‘may also provide locum support for performers who are returning from sickness leave or for those who are at risk of needing to go on sickness leave’.

According to Dr Morley, this was not the only occasion practices were wrongfully denied reimbursement, with another issue having led to a correction to the SFE.

Prior to the amendment, practices had been denied reimbursement if locums covering for a sick GP were recruited on a fixed-term basis rather than on a freelance basis.

Dr Morley said the SFE wording had not been ‘amended to remove any room for misinterpretation on this’, following agreement with NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care.

The GPC negotiated for sickness payments to become non-discretionary in the 2017/18 GP contract, saving practices from spending thousands in locum insurance.

Previous problems with the agreement saw practices denied locum cover for parental leave in 2016. On that occasion, NHS England wrote to regional teams to correct the problem.

An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘Under the GP contract some decisions on locum reimbursement fall to individual CCGs or local commissioners.

‘When local variation causes any concern, NHS England works with the BMA GP Committee to ensure policy and procedures are being implemented fairly and proportionately at a local level.’