NHS England has had to write to its local teams after practices were denied reimbursements for locum cover for parental leave.
Some local area teams have been paying practices only 20 weeks’ worth of locum cover when staff or GP partners take parental leave, despite the 2015/16 GMS contract guaranteeing 26 weeks’ reimbursement.
Several LMCs told the GPC that practices were not being reimbursed the full amount, and after pressure from the GPC, NHS England amended its guidance on the GMS contract to its local area teams in December last year.
Local area teams have now been told to pay practices for the final six weeks’ pay retrospectively when they request it.
The negotiations for the current contract guaranteed practices the right to locum reimbursements from NHS England for parental leave for the first time, where previously this depended on local PCT discretionary arrangements.
However, the guidance to local area teams did not specify for how long the payments should continue.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey insisted that the arrangements had been ‘absolutely clear’ in March, but ‘for reasons best known to NHS England’ the guidance had only been changed in December.
An NHS England spokesperson blamed the confusion on an ambiguous statement of financial entitlements (SFE) document which did not specify the length that payments should be continued, and meant some regions were only reimbursing up to 20 weeks of cover.
They told Pulse: ‘Most areas were paying up to 26 weeks but there were some differences because the SFE did not specify the length of payments. NHS England has therefore written to all local teams confirming a 26 week maximum, and asking them to remedy payments retrospectively where necessary for all practices that request it.’
Chair of the GPC’s contracts and regulation subcommittee Dr Robert Morley told Pulse that several areas had raised the issue with GP leaders.
Dr Morley said: ‘There have been many concerns from a number of areas. It’s most welcome that NHS England have, albeit belatedly and following much pressure from GPC, put the record straight to ensure that all GPs are dealt with fairly and properly, in line with what has been agreed nationally.
GPC deputy chair Dr Vautrey added that ’the guidance wasn’t as clear as it ought to have been’.
He added: ‘There had been a commitment from NHS England to honour this, and sort it out throughout the year, but for reasons best known to them it has taken them this long to sort out what we agreed nine months ago.
‘We were absolutely clear back in March last year about the changes, NHS England have consistently said they would abide by them and yet some regional teams have not been doing so.’
Why was there confusion over payments?
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Funding to cover maternity leave was guaranteed for all GP practices under negotiations for the current GP contract.
The 2015/16 GP contract deal saw 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.
However, the guidance to local area teams only stated practices should be given ’£1,131.74 for the first two weeks and £1,734.18 thereafter’ – which some area teams took to mean until week 20.
This has now been changed to state the £1,734.18 should be given from week ’three to 26’.
Practices who were paid only 20 weeks’ worth of locum payments will be paid retrospectively.