NHS England has announced that retired doctors will be able to re-join the NHS from this autumn to carry out outpatient appointments and help reduce waiting lists.
Recently retired doctors will be able to sign up to a new digital platform to offer their availability to Trusts across England to perform outpatient appointments, either virtually or in person, and will be able to carry out remote appointments from anywhere in England.
NHS England said that ‘appropriate checks’ would be carried out before consultants become fully registered on the platform. The programme will be open to recently retired consultants with NHS experience and an active registration on the specialist register and the GMC registry, who also hold CCT.
NHS hospitals will be able to select the consultants whose skillsets and availability match their appointment needs, which will be scheduled and arranged with patients in the normal way. The platform is aimed at providing Trusts an alternative to agency staff and allowing experienced specialists a route back into the NHS for ‘a bit longer’ with more flexibility.
The tool is hoped to support the delivery of the government’s NHS Elective Recovery Plan, including a target of ‘virtually eliminating’ waits of more than 65 weeks by March 2024. NHS England said that more than four-fifths of people on waiting lists required an outpatient appointment such as a follow-up for cardiology or rheumatology, rather than a surgical procedure.
Speaking at NHS Confed Expo in Manchester today, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘Using this digital tool will help us to match patients with retired doctors who we know are keen to stay working in a flexible way so they can keep caring for patients, as well as allowing us to expand capacity to see even more patients – and faster.
‘NHS staff have already made excellent progress against our elective recovery plan – and this platform will not only help us continue to reduce the longest waits but it will also help us slash agency spend, using the existing capacity of experienced doctors who still have so much to offer the NHS.’
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay added: ‘Cutting waiting lists is one of the Government’s top five priorities, and these innovative measures will help our approach by matching the right consultants with appropriate patients and focusing on areas with the highest demand.’
NHS England workforce data shows that about 1,000 consultants leave the NHS for retirement each year.
As of this year, the Government has also changed the NHS Pension Scheme to make it easier for GPs to partially retire, as well as removing a 16-hour-a-week rule for returning doctors, which the health minister said could help keep thousands of staff in the NHS.
The number of patients waiting more than 18 months fell to 10,737 by April – down by more than 90% from 124,911 in September 2021 and by more than four-fifths since the start of January when there were 54,882. However, the number of children waiting for NHS hospital appointments has reached an all-time high.