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BMA: Extend GP winter indemnity scheme or face out-of-hours workforce hit

The BMA has called on the Government to extend the winter indemnity scheme, which sees additional premiums reimbursed by NHS England.

It warned that failure to do so would ‘greatly impact’ out of hours when it comes to an end after the Easter weekend.

According to a BMA GP Committee survey, eight in 10 GPs will cut back or stop working out-of-hours sessions when the scheme ends.

The scheme, which sees indemnity costs covered for GPs who agree to take on additional shifts over winter, has run for the last two years from November to April.

This year, NHS England doubled the amount of funding paid into the scheme from £5m to £10m.

In response to the BMA’s survey of 521 GPs, carried out this month, 80% of GPs said they would either reduce the number of sessions they provide or stop working out-of-hours all together if the scheme ends in April.

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In a letter to NHS England’s primary care commissioning director Dr David Geddes, GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said they were ‘extremely concerned’ about ending the scheme.

He wrote: ‘This scheme has been central to enabling GPs to work additional hours. The discontinuation of the scheme will have a great impact on out of hours and unscheduled services and in turn increase pressures on general practice even further.’

The warning comes as a recent Pulse investigation revealed a 26% increase in the number of serious incidents reported in GP out-of-hours services, with GP leaders warning that they are no longer a ‘safe pace of work’ due to ‘intense’ workload.

GPC deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said: ‘GPs already face a huge financial burden in the face of rising indemnity fees which are even more inflated for out-of-hours work.

‘This added expense to cover them for out-of-hours services often proves unaffordable and prevents shifts being filled and desperately needed doctors from attending patients at these times.’

He added that GPs have endured ‘one of the worst winters on record’, but noted that ‘the pressure on general practice does not disappear at the beginning of April, and therefore a sustainable, long-term indemnity package that covers all GPs providing out-of-hours sessions must be put in place’.

The Government is planning to introduce a ‘state-backed’ indemnity scheme for GPs, including out-of-hours services, from April 2019.