Locum GPs will not be 'corralled' into NHS England's flexible GP pools

Locum GPs will not be 'corralled' into flexible GP pools being set up by NHS England and must retain control of how and when they work if the new system is to be a success, the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) has said.

National Association of Sessional GPs chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse
National Association of Sessional GPs chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse

Speaking to GPonline's podcast Talking General Practice, NASGP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse said that 'in principle' the flexible pools were a 'fantastic idea'. But he stressed that the flexibility they provided must not just be for the integrated care system (ICS) setting them up.

'The flexibility has also got to empower and enable the locums themselves,' Dr Fieldhouse said. 'The biggest problem we have in the NHS is workforce and the biggest problem the workforce has is wellness, it's resilience. And so we need a work/life balance.

'So being corralled into one way of working when some of use choose to be locums... we don't want to suddenly find our control is being taken away. So we need that flexibility still.'

Talking General Practice podcast
Listen to the interview with Dr Richard Fieldhouse in our podcast here.

Flexible pools

NHS England announced plans in July 2020 to set up local banks of GPs working flexibly as part of its People Plan strategy. The scheme aims to boost general practice capacity by making it easier for practices to access temporary staff.

Last year, NHS England committed further funding for ICSs to support the implementation and running costs of local pools until March 2022.

Dr Fieldhouse said that the NASGP had been working with seven ICSs to set up their pools of doctors based around the locum chambers model.

'We're using a ground-up approach with our locum chamber models. Our principle goes that if you have happy, engaged GPs who are motivated then everything else will follow on.'

He added that NHS England's decision to back this new way of working showed that it had 'changed its mindset' and was starting to recognise the important role locum GPs could play.

Locum GP workforce

'This pandemic has really cast a light on the need for locum GPs,' Dr Fieldhouse said. 'The NHS has been taking a very closed-minded approach to locum GPs, but it is starting to open up. GP locuming is a "desire path". It is what we want to do. It is a positive career choice. There are all sorts of reasons why people can't, or don't want to work as salaried or partner GPs.'

However he added that it was vital that the NHS had better data about the locum GP workforce. The NASGP estimates that about 25% of the GP workforce are locums, but official data does not reflect this figure.

'We can't really have a conversation about workforce planning, when we don't know who these people are or where they are working,' Dr Fieldhouse said.

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