Dr Zoe Norris: Locums are part of the solution to the GP crisis

GP leaders will meet in Edinburgh this week for the 2017 UK LMCs conference. As part of a week-long series of blogs for GPonline by GPC members, sessional subcommittee chair Dr Zoe Norris looks at progress on supporting locum and salaried GPs.

As the 2017 LMC Conference opens this week, it is clear that after years of neglect our beleaguered profession cannot stagger on for much longer. Overworked and overwhelmed, it is hardly surprising that the BMA estimates more than 300 GP practices are facing closure. But what are the solutions to the huge challenges we face and what role can salaried and locum GPs play in getting general practice back on its feet?

I almost feel that there is little point reciting the desperate issues that many GPs face on a daily basis. Despite protestations that everything is rosy from politicians, it clearly isn’t.  The critical crisis: a shortage of GPs. A recent BMA survey revealed that almost half of GP practices frequently have problems finding locums and a third reported having vacancies they were unable to fill during 2016.

There are not enough GPs of any type – partners, salaried or locums. Without sessional GPs working alongside our colleagues, the system will collapse. We are a resource there to be engaged with and used.

GP funding

Any solutions on the horizon? The BMA has said again and again that we need full and immediate delivery of the GP Forward View launched last year. There have been signs of action, but they have been far too small and far too patchy. Anyone seen the £3 per head transformation funding yet?

In the same vein, politicians of all parties need to go into the election with a conviction that they will deliver the extra resources and staff they promise. More empty pledges will not result in more appointments for patients. What does the LMC conference think we should do?

It thinks we should have solved the problem by now of being able to keep in touch with locum GPs. No local or national database, no performers lists for LMCs, no decent data on the sessional workforce; everyone is in the dark. No access to NHS email addresses which means no access to vital clinical updates from NHS England, PHE, the MHRA, and education invitations. You can’t have your appraisal documents sent without an NHS email, and some CCGs will bar you from educational events without one!

When I took over as chair just under a year ago, I said communication was key. The lack of an accurate, up to date national performers list is a scandal, that pre-dates Capita’s responsibility for it. I spent time being assured the problem of locum emails was sorted, but apparently only in theory not practice – which isn’t at all frustrating...

Keeping locums informed

Refusing to solve the problem of locum emails implies that NHS England and CCGs aren’t bothered if they have locums working in practices who aren’t up to date because they can’t access educational events or updates. There was us thinking CPD was important…!

The sessional subcommittee are finally making progress on achieving recognition that this is not just a 'locum' problem, but affects practices, patients and LMCs too.

I won’t pretend that a glow of optimism will be the defining characteristic of locum and salaried delegates at Edinburgh this week. But I am so pleased to have had lots of LMCs engaging with their sessional doctors, and sending in motions like these for debate reflects that growing trend.

Salaried and locum GPs are part of general practice. I hope all LMC delegates, regardless of their own role, will keep supporting a united workforce and remember where the real problem lies - in the chronic neglect and underfunding of our profession.

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