NHS England has confirmed its intention to extend the use of GP staff banks beyond the Covid pandemic.
GP leaders warned that the model ‘won’t work’ because locums ‘don’t want to be corralled’ into staff banks.
Last year, NHS England announced that salaried and locum GPs would be recruited into new flexible staffing ‘pools’ backed by £120,000 of funding in each region.
The banks were initially set up to provide extra staff during the Covid-19 pandemic, but NHS England suggested at the time that they could continue beyond the crisis period.
New NHS England 2021/22 guidance published last month has confirmed the intention for the pools to be ‘ongoing’ and that they ‘should continue’ beyond the end of GP Covid support funding in September 2021.
The guidance said that all systems should now have staff pools ‘underway’ and that up to £120k is available to each local area to support ‘implementation and running costs’ until March 2022.
It said: ‘Similar to 2020/21, systems can receive up to £120k each for the realisation and management of pools to engage and deploy local GPs flexibly in an ongoing way, to support local primary care, including PCN extended access services.
‘The pools can provide a mechanism for practices to use the General Practice Covid Capacity Expansion Fund (CCEF) for extra salaried GP capacity until end September 2021, yet the pools should continue after this time.’
It added that systems should consider how the staff pools can be ‘further developed’ once set up, including as a ‘local point of contact’ or source of ‘support and advice’ to the wider GP workforce.
While the design is ‘up to local discretion’, the pools could be utilised to support GP employment on a ‘flexible’ and ‘possibly part-time’ fixed-term basis for deployment ‘against local need’ and/or to link ‘flexible sessional GPs to practice need’, it said.
NHS England’s ‘ambition is complete geographic coverage’, the guidance added.
National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse told Pulse that locums ‘don’t want to be corralled’ into staff banks.
He said: ‘What NHS England’s framework sets up to do is largely to commoditise locums. It’s trying to stop them being freelance, stop them being flexible and instead to employ them [in] what looks to be a zero-hours contract.
He added: ‘On paper, flexible pools of locums sound a brilliant idea, [but] start scratching the surface and it won’t work.
‘No locum I’ve ever spoken to wants to work in a salaried bank, become an employee and be told when and where they’re going to work.’
The NASGP has been approached by ‘various groups of locums from different parts of the country’ who have been asked to become salaried bank GPs – but they want to see local locum chambers set up instead, Dr Fieldhouse said.
The proposals were first set out in NHS England’s People Plan, which said practices and PCNs would be encouraged ‘to offer more flexible roles to salaried GPs and support the establishment of banks of GPs’.
It comes as GPs warned at last month’s UK LMC conference that locums working in Wales could face ‘potentially financially crippling’ effects from the new requirement to join a staff bank in order to receive state-backed indemnity.
GPs told the conference that they also feared governments in other parts of the UK could impose a similar system for locums.
However, Dr Fieldhouse told Pulse that he ‘really hopes’ NHS England won’t introduce a similar model and believes it would ‘struggle’ to do so.