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‘Flexible’ GP appraisals to restart from October

Exclusive NHS England is restarting the GP appraisals process from 1 October this year, after it was paused in March to allow doctors to focus on the Covid-19 response.

To start with, the appraisals should allow for greter flexibility and a significant reduced need for evidence, NHS England said, with regular appraisals due to start up again by 1 April next year.

But it added that these may need to be put on hold on a local basis in response to outbreaks of coronavirus.

This comes after NHS England said last month that it was reworking the appraisals process in light of the pandemic.

A draft letter to responsible officers from NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis, seen by Pulse, said appraisals were being brought back during the pandemic in a bid to ‘support’ doctors.

The letter said: ‘For many doctors the emergence of Covid-19 and its impact on the UK will be one of the most significant things to happen in their career, with a range of both negative and positive consequences.

‘In this context appraisal is highly relevant as a tool to support doctors and nurture their professional growth, in a working environment that will remain disrupted for many. This should be the focus as we move to restart appraisal.’

To that end, Professor Powis said he would ‘recommend’ to responsible offices that they ‘adopt a flexible approach, aiming to begin reinstating appraisals by 1 October, with a view to resuming normal levels of activity by 1 April next year’.

But the letter added that ‘further local suspensions of appraisal activity may well be necessary in the face of local outbreaks’, with Professor Powis saying he ‘would encourage these decisions to be made locally and that flexibility and understanding be shown to individual doctors, by postponing or approving the missing of appraisal as necessary’.

According to Professor Powis, the appraisals taking place during the pandemic will have a ‘clear focus on the doctor’s wellbeing and professional development in the context of the pandemic’.

He said there would be particular concern for those at increased risk of Covid-19, including doctors of BAME background, increasing age or pregnancy. He added that talks around this are ongoing with the Academy of Royal Colleges and the BMA.

He also said that GMC is ‘supportive’ of this approach’ and said NHS England is working with the devolved nations to ensure there is a ‘broadly consistent approach across the UK’.

BMA GP committee deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said: ‘The BMA’s GP committee has in recent weeks been in discussion with NHSE regarding a planned restart of appraisals in general practice. While full details are yet to be officially published, we have been encouraged by the positive approach to a redesigned appraisal process focussing on a formative doctor-centred approach.

‘We welcome the significant simplification of appraisal requirements and the reduction in the volume of evidence and paperwork expected.

‘We believe that this will be a step forward in empowering doctors to use their appraisal to reflect on their professional development and is part of the wider BMA strategy of bureaucracy reduction and our re-professionalisation agenda set out in our policy document Trust GPs to Lead.’

It comes as  the GMC announced an extension to GP revalidation dates eligible for deferral in June.

Previously, all revalidation dates scheduled from March until the end of September 2020 were deferred for a year to ‘free up vital time’ for GPs to respond to the virus.

Meanwhile, NHS England has launched its review into GP bureaucracy, which was promised as part of this year’s contract negotiations.

And the CQC is restarting GP practices inspections in the autumn.

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