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Practices will not be reimbursed for locum cover from day one if GPs self-isolate

EXCLUSIVE The Government will not reimburse practices for locum cover from day one for GPs who self-isolate due to coronavirus exposure, Pulse has learned.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the Government will make statutory sick pay available from day one – as opposed to day four, as the current rules dictate – for those who are self-isolating because of coronavirus (Covid-19) as part of emergency legislation.

However, NHS England currently only reimburses practices for sickness cover after a GP partner or salaried GP has been off work for more than two weeks.

Practices are unable to claim reimbursement for the first two continuous weeks of absence for each period of sickness leave – and afterwards can claim up to a maximum of £1,751.52 per week for the following 26 weeks (weeks 3 to 28) and then a maximum of £875.76 per week for the following 26 weeks (weeks 29 to 54).

A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told Pulse that payments will continue on this basis.

They added that it is the GP practice’s responsibility as an employer to provide sick pay for its employees, including its partners.

Those with symptoms of either a high temperature or a new continuous cough should self-isolate at home for seven days if they live alone, or 14 days if they live with others, according to the latest guidance.

This means that any GPs self-isolating under this guidance will not be reimbursed for locum cover during this period. 

The DWP added: ‘There is a range of support in place for those who do not receive statutory sick pay, including Universal Credit and contributory Employment and Support Allowance.’

Manchester GP partner Dr Lucy Aczel branded the Government’s refusal to refund self-isolating GPs’ sessions as ‘ridiculous’ and called for the policy to be reviewed ‘as a matter of urgency’.

She said: ‘[Chancellor] Rishi Sunak has promised that the NHS will get “whatever it needs” and “the cost of a business having to have someone off work for up to fourteen days will be refunded”. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to GPs.

‘It is ridiculous that the sessions for the those of us on the front line, and likely to come in contact with coronavirus, will not be refunded if we are self-isolating. In order to prevent a rapid decline in GP numbers at this time of crisis, I would ask NHS England to review their policy as a matter of urgency.’ 

BMA GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The BMA is liaising with NHS England about a whole host of elements in general practice that might have to change given the current situation with Covid-19, including reimbursement for sickness cover to come in immediately for surgeries rather than after two weeks.’

Announcing the temporary statutory sick pay measure – which does not apply to GPs – Mr Johnson said that ‘no one should be penalised for doing the right thing’.

The upcoming Covid-19 emergency bill will also ‘look at ensuring that any retired staff who return to work in the NHS will not have their pensions negatively impacted’, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

It added that the bill will also provide ‘employment safeguards’ that protect the jobs of ‘skilled, experienced or qualified’ volunteers who support the health and social care system for up to four weeks.

It comes as the Government confirmed that GP practices will have their funding for QOF, DES and LES protected during the coronavirus outbreak in a bid to ensure that funding concerns do not impact on decisions made by clinicians during the crisis.