Government sets out plans to bring back retired doctors in emergency COVID-19 bill

The government has laid out plans to make it easier for retired GPs to return to work during the UK COVID-19 outbreak in an emergency bill.

Professor Chris Whitty and Matt Hancock (Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)
Professor Chris Whitty and Matt Hancock (Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

The document includes measures to relax rules around pensions for returning doctors - allowing them to return to work 'without any negative repercussion' - and guarantees state-backed indemnity for all healthcare professionals during the pandemic.

Emergency plans, which allow the GMC to grant retired doctors temporary registration, also allow returning staff to work more than 16 hours per week - relaxing a current rule that limits weekly hours.

The government explained that the emergency measures, which will be in place 'for as long as required', have been activated to deal with ‘a significant level of challenge for the NHS’ over the coming months and support staff.

A total of 1,950 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK, with 71 people dying from the virus. But the government's chief scientific advisor suggested yesterday that as many as 50,000 people could now be infected.

Coronavirus response

Announcing the emergency regulations yesterday evening, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We are doing everything we can to protect lives and support the NHS, guided by the best scientists and clinicians in the world.

‘The new measures we will be introducing in the Emergency Coronavirus Bill this week will only be used when it is absolutely necessary and must be timed to maximise their effectiveness, but crucially they give the government the powers it needs to protect lives.

‘By planning for the worst and working for the best we will get through this, but this is a national effort and we must all work together - from businesses prioritising the welfare of their employees, to people thoroughly washing their hands.

‘I also want to pay tribute to our brilliantly selfless NHS and social care staff who are working tirelessly to care for our friends and loved ones in this unprecedented period.’

Temporary registration

In March, the government announced it was looking to introduce emergency powers to enable recently retired doctors and final year medical school students to work during a UK COVID-19 outbreak.

The GMC recently revealed that doctors returning to practice would automatically be given free temporary registration and would not be subject to revalidation during the pandemic. GPonline has reported that the number of GPs eligible to return could be above 5,000.

But top GPs warned recently that the government had to ‘get a move on’ with these efforts to ensure clinicians had adequate information to allow returning GPs to make a decision around returning to work.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘Our approach to responding to this outbreak has and will remain driven by the scientific and clinical evidence so we do the right thing at the right time.

‘The measures included in this bill will help support our frontline workers, protect the public and delay the peak of the virus to the summer months when the NHS is typically under less pressure.'

Pension rules relaxed

The MPS, MDU and MDDUS have confirmed that retired former members will be offered free membership during the outbreak.

Specialist medical accountant and executive board member at AISMA James Gransby said: 'The proposed suspension to the 16-hour rule is sensible given the workforce issues presently. Failure to do so would have meant suspension of their pension. Maybe it is time for this rule to be revoked fully.'

Mr Gransby also said that the suspension of the pension abatement would allow returning GPs aged between 55 and 60 to 'increase their work levels immediately' once the bill was passed.

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