Government urged to 'get a move on' recalling retired doctors in COVID-19 outbreak

The government ‘needs to get a move on’ with plans to recall retired doctors to bolster the NHS workforce during the coronavirus outbreak, a top GP has warned.

Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson (Photo: Pete Hill)
Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson (Photo: Pete Hill)

The total number of confirmed UK COVID-19 cases rose to 1,372 on 15 March, with the government reporting that 35 people have died from the virus.

Last week, GPonline revealed that more than 5,000 GPs could be granted temporary registration to return to NHS work - but Wessex LMC chief executive Dr Nigel Watson has said retired clinicians are yet to be contacted.

The retired Hampshire GP, whose registration is about to lapse, said he would be prepared to return to clinical practice should he get the call. However, he said he was still waiting to hear how retired doctors would be asked to help out and when they would be called to work.

BMA deputy chair Dr David Wrigley last week criticised the government for failing to given retired doctors adequate information about emergency plans - denying them the chance to make informed decisions.

NHS workforce

Dr Watson insisted that the government had to speed up plans to recruit retired clinicians to ensure the workforce was strengthened and to give retired GPs the information they needed to decide whether they would return to practice.

He told GPonline the government had been slow to get in touch with retired doctors. ‘There hasn't been any information at the minute,' he said.

‘So, are you going to get people back to do the full bit? Are you going to get them to come back under supervision? I think there are lots of questions which, at the moment, haven't been answered.

‘I would be prepared to come back and do clinical work, but they're going to have to get a move on because I suspect that, if the numbers escalate pretty quickly they're going to need to implement that fairly quickly.’

The Hampshire GP said he knew other GPs who would be willing to come out of retirement, but were waiting to see ‘what is being asked of them and how they would get back to doing it’ before making a decision.

‘But I think there are some who wouldn't want to come back, some would say, "well, actually, we're over 60, so therefore we're at greater risk",’ he added.

GMC registration

On Friday, the GMC revealed some details around how doctors, who have recently relinquished their registrations, would be helped back to work.

It said that practitioners would be given temporary registration and would not have to complete a registration process, with the GMC doing this automatically. The regulator added registration would be free, while those returning to practice would not be subject to revalidation during this time.

However, the GMC stopped short of disclosing how retired doctors would be asked to help out if they returned to work or when this would be.

Earlier this month, CMO Professor Chris Whitty said older doctors returning to work could be deployed in non patient-facing roles to ensure their safety.

‘We might well be in a situation where we decide that we deploy doctors who are older or who have health conditions into non patient-facing roles that may still be clinical…there are things that could be done that would not put them at risk but would help to serve the public for this period of time when the NHS was under considerable strain.'

  • How have you or your practice been affected by coronavirus? Get in touch with GPonline in confidence at gponline@haymarket.com

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