NHS England has updated its protocol on locum cover reimbursements for GP performers who are returning from sick leave on a phased basis.
The clarification follows a successful GPC challenge of commissioners’ ‘misinterpretations’ of the rules earlier this year, which meant some practices were going unpaid.
NHS Employers has circulated the new NHS England protocol in a FAQs document, which says it supports ‘the safe return to work of GP performers’ and ‘recognise that GP practices exercise flexibility in managing sickness absence, where GP performers under a fit note are declared they may be fit to work, subject to advice and agreement on phased return or adjusted hours’.
It clarifies that the GMS contract ‘makes no distinction on sickness leave’ meaning that mandatory reimbursement ‘applies whether a GP partner is under a fit note declaring they are unfit to work, or may be fit to work subject to advice given on phased return or adjusted hours’.
Meanwhile, in respect of employed GPs who are returning to work on a phased basis, reimbursement is mandatory where practices have met their statutory sick pay (SSP) requirements, and otherwise discretionary.
GPC contracts and regulations lead Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC, challenged the issue in the West Midlands in April, leading the GPC to contest the matter nationally.
Dr Morley said: ‘We’re very happy that NHS England, following pressure from GPC, has updated its guidance to make this abundantly clear to CCGs nationally.
‘It’s only right that practices be reimbursed for all sessions where cover is required when a GP returns from sickness absence on reduced sessions, and that this should apply regardless of whether the absent GP is a partner or salaried.’
He added: ‘With general practice in the grip of such a massive recruitment and retention crisis, it’s imperative that practices are appropriately funded to pay for staff absences and cover, and supported in helping valuable and hard-working GPs back to work after any time away.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘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 partners to ensure policy and procedures are being implemented fairly and proportionately at a local level and where appropriate, as in this case, will clarify the position with local commissioners.’
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Healthcare Leader