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Don’t fill out NHS England’s workforce audit, GPC tells practices as it holds urgent talks

Exclusive GPs have been told to hold off on completing a mandatory survey of practice staff, described as ‘intrusive’ and ‘time consuming’ by GP leaders, until the GPC has concluded urgent meetings with the Department of Health.

Pulse revealed in January that GPs had been told by NHS England that they should complete a census of 75 different categories by May, including a report of staff absences, ethnicity and the reasons for staff members leaving, for the NHS workforce Minimum Data Set (wMDS).

The BMA legal department reviewed whether practices can opt-out of the census over data protection concerns, but advised that data sharing powers introduced in the Health and Social Care Act overruled their objections.

As a result, the GPC had said that practices were obliged to complete these forms.

However, the GPC has now advised practices not to begin preparing for the scheme, as has been in talks with the DH over mitigating the ‘significant’ workload burden at a time when GPs are already over stretched.

In a note sent to LMCs, the GPC said that practices should hold off on completing the forms while it holds talks and reviews practices’ legal obligations again.

LMCs have begun disseminating the information, which states: ‘GPC would advise practices to await further guidance before proceeding with the preparation of the data, and GPC will issue further information as soon as possible.’

The GPC had an initial meeting with the DH last Thursday at which the DH agreed to work with the GPC to minimise the burden the wMDS puts on practices and another meeting will take place soon.

The BMA legal department had found that NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre can demand the information under powers granted bysection 259 of the Health and Social Care Act – the same section which blocks GPs from preventing the extraction of their patients’ records under, NHS England’s GP record-sharing scheme.

GPC deputy chair, Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse that the GPC had concerns over the ‘huge workload’ for practices, and that practices should continue to hold off completing the forms.

He said: ‘Practices have been raising real concerns about this for a number of reasons; the huge workload involved for individual practices, at a time when they’re already struggling; and concerns about what data is being requested, particularly concerns around requests for national insurance numbers for individuals, which many people have been anxious about.

‘So we’ve met with [the DH and HSCIC], and I think they’re very alert to the problems that this is creating and want to work with us to try and find a better way of doing this. So I think it’s early days, and we’ll see whether we can get to a better place.’

‘I think we’re focussed on issues about workload, the practicality, and the collaboration – rather than a threatening approach. That’s the way to solve this particular problem.’

‘We’re hoping to issue something as soon as possible, but it depends really on the outcome of further discussions with the various parties involved.’

A DH spokesperson told Pulse: ‘All parties agree it is vital we get accurate and detailed information from GPs about their workforce because it allows us to plan for future training and recruitment requirements, and also reassures the public.’

‘However, we understand GPs are under pressure, so we will consider the issues raised by the BMA. We are working together to reduce the burden on GPs of submitting this data, and are hopeful we will reach agreement soon.’