Failure to count locum GPs 'makes mockery' of workforce planning, warns BMA

Revalidation and performers list data could help build the first accurate picture of the number of locum GPs working in England, according to BMA leaders who say the data is vital for workforce planning.

Dr Zoe Norris

GPC sessional GP committee chair Dr Zoe Norris has warned that workforce planning is impossible without accurate data on the number of locum GPs working in primary care.

Earlier this year, official data revealed a 2% drop in whole-time equivalent GP numbers - but the figures have been widely criticised because they capture only a handful of locum GPs. Some estimates suggest that well over a quarter of GPs working in the UK are locums.

Better data would help the GPC build an accurate picture of the working landscape and models that work for most GPs, Dr Norris said,  and would help improve local planning, particularly for LMC leaders in areas where the locum workforce fluctuates wildly.

GP workforce

‘For general practice to be sustainable we need to know what is and isn't working now,’ she said. ‘Having information on what GPs across the country are doing is surely a basic requirement.’

Upon her appointment as chair, Dr Norris said it was ‘beyond ludicrous’ that there was no official headcount of locums, suggesting that the committee would look into working out its own estimate of numbers.

She told GPonline: ‘Anything the government, NHS England or Health Education England (HEE) have said about workforce planning has absolutely no weight without accurate sessional workforce data - this needs sorting.’

She is now exploring two potential solutions - the first is using data provided on the GP performers list, while the second involves using the appraisal system to gather data on GPs' main roles and sessions worked.

The former 'will be quicker and more feasible in the short term', while the group will work towards the latter in the longer term, she said.

She added that the committee had started discussions with ‘a number of groups’ outside of the GPC to develop a more accurate picture of this information.

Locum GPs

‘There is very little data on the sessional workforce, and this includes everyone from full-time locums, to partners doing one or two sessions as locums or in out of hours,’ Dr Norris said.

‘Firstly, this makes a mockery of any central workforce planning and promised GP recruitment numbers as we have no idea of the current workforce, or what their fulltime equivalent is.

‘And secondly: knowing the workforce, who they are, where they are and how to communicate with them is vital for both GPC, the BMA – and one would hope NHS England while the significant changes of STPs are underway.

‘There is no simple way of contacting all sessional GPs; nobody knows how many or who they are. This seems ludicrous.’

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