Exclusive A CCG has commissioned a new service for pooling staff that will allow locum GPs – potentially working remotely from across the UK – to provide shifts for GP practices in Worcestershire.
The newly launched Worcestershire Clinical Pools Service has been set up as part of NHS England’s national programme for creating flexible banks of staff in primary care.
Commissioned by NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCG, the service will give locum GPs access to all of the county’s 10 primary care networks (PCNs), which include 60 GP practices.
It allows locum GPs to book shifts with practices in Worcestershire via an app or website created by technology provider Patchwork Health, which has previously worked with Liverpool PCNs to set up a digital staff bank for Covid patients in hot clinics.
Local GP federation SW Healthcare, which is running the service, says the initiative will help plug gaps in the GP workforce.
It will also speed up administrative checks for locum GPs when moving between different practice shifts and will save practices money because the service will not charge a fee as an agency would, said the federation.
The service has recruited 15 local locum GPs since launching on 12 July and has invited 300 in the local region to sign up.
It aims to expand the service to 600 locum GPs, including those outside of the local region, over the coming months.
SW Healthcare’s project lead for the service, Scott Wood, said: ‘Potentially [this is] opening the pool to a wider community… Our funding reaches across the 10 PCNs across Worcestershire but the locum doesn’t necessarily need to be from that region.’
‘Historically practices would rely on their preferred clinicians but this opens up the pool. Should those clinicians be otherwise engaged or on annual leave they then have the facility to access other clinicians – without paying inflated prices.’
He said it would be up to the GP practice to decide whether a locum GP is required for face-to-face appointments – and whether the shift could be completed by a GP working away from the practice.
The initiative’s flexible approach should help to assist practices with any gaps in recruitment, he added: ‘Under the current climate, with GPs being depleted across various commissioning projects, vaccination centres and so on, this is another opportunity in which rotas can be covered.’
Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chair of the National Association of Sessional GPs, said he was concerned that locum GPs working for a bank would have less say over their working conditions.
He said: ‘Normally, as self-employed independent contractors, locums – often as a groups of locums, or in chambers – can define their hours, pay, terms and conditions, induction etc etc and even decline work if they feel that their place of work is not safe for them to practise. But if part of a bank, there’s a worry that this may not happen.’
Dr Fieldhouse said new services set up to deploy locum GPs into practices should ‘be there first and foremost to support those GPs’ noting that NASGP was in favour of the ‘tried-and-trusted GP locum chambers model above this new “salaried” bank model’ for that reason.
Earlier this year NHS England confirmed its intention to extend the use of GP staff banks beyond the Covid pandemic – but GP leaders warned that the model ‘won’t work’ because locums ‘don’t want to be corralled’ into staff banks.
NHS England’s 2021/22 guidance 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.