Speaking at the GMC annual conference this week, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) professional development committee chair Dr Susi Caesar said changing annual appraisals to an 'opt in' model could risk making it harder for under-pressure clinicians to access support.
Her comments follow calls from the RCGP to suspend appraisals until the end of the pandemic, with college chair Professor Martin Marshall insisting that most GPs ‘simply do not have the capacity’ to complete them - and should be allowed to have an appraisal only if they choose to.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey, however, has suggested he would prefer to see appraisal maintained as Dr Caesar suggests - insisting that some GPs may benefit from the chance to have conversations about wellbeing with a colleague.
In September NHS England announced that a stripped-back version of appraisals would restart from 1 October after it underwent ‘significant simplification’ to recognise the pressures of the pandemic.
The streamlined procedure, which has an enhanced focus on wellbeing and is designed to reduce preparation time to 30 minutes or less, operates on an ‘opt-out’ basis, meaning GPs can skip their annual appraisal if it is due before March 2021. This was recently updated to include doctors who are due to revalidate before August 2021.
Speaking to delegates Dr Caesar - who is also the RCGP's medical director for revalidation - argued in favour of keeping the 'opt-out' model during the pandemic. She said: 'NHS England has gone for offering this to everybody with the opportunity to opt out and say, if you cannot have it because of local COVID [pressures] or other reasons, [you can delay the appraisal]. Opting out gives an opportunity for the area offices to offer alternative support.
'The RCGP has called for it to be an opt-in process, but I do see a risk with that of the people who need support the most not being able to opt in.’
Dr Vautrey told GPonline he did not support suspension of appraisal. He said: 'There is some benefit particularly for GPs who have had a really torrid time over the last few months, and are potentially at risk of burnout.
'[They may want] to have a short breather to sit down and have a conversation with a colleague about how they are doing and just checking they are accessing the right support and that their mental health and wellbeing is as good as it could be. Having that opportunity can be quite helpful, we don’t want to deny that for those who think it is of value.'
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall has called for appraisals to be suspended again as they were during the first wave of the pandemic in March, arguing that GPs are already experiencing workload far higher than last year.
He said: ‘It is now necessary to create capacity to allow GPs to do what is needed to tackle COVID-19 whilst continuing to deliver the vital care and services our patients rely on us for. To this end, the college is calling for the suspension of GP appraisal to be reinstated until the acute phase of the pandemic is over.'
Recent guidance published by the AoMRC states that appraisals can be 'opportunity to help doctors reflect on their health and wellbeing', but stressed that doctors should be provided with 'additional support' if they are unable to engage with the process.