Providers struggling to find out-of-hours GPs since winter indemnity deal ended

Urgent health organisations are finding it harder to fill GP out-of-hours shifts since the winter indemnity scheme ended at the start of April, early findings from a poll of providers suggest.

Early results from a poll by Urgent Health UK (UHUK) - a federation of not-for-profit urgent care providers - found that two out of seven organisations that responded had found it harder to recruit since the winter scheme ended on 2 April.

UHUK chair Dr Simon Abrams said the organisation was seeking further responses and had expected problems with recruitment once the winter scheme ended to be widespread.

Last month, BMA leaders called for the winter indemnity deal to be extended, warning that the out-of-hours workforce could collapse if GPs were required to pay the full cost of indemnity.

Unfilled shifts

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline this week: 'With many out-of-hours providers already struggling to fill sessions, if even a few GPs who currently do evening and weekend shifts stop doing so because of the increased cost of indemnity, this could have a major impact on the ability of some providers to maintain safe services for their local patients.'

Dr Abrams said UHUK had polled members because 'we were concerned that once the scheme had ended the number of GPs working out-of-hours shifts would start to drop'.

Seven UHUK member organisations have responded to date, with two reporting increased recruitment problems. Dr Abrams said he had expected to see a greater proportion of respondents reporting concerns.

He said that the current findings suggested it was possible the problem was not as severe as expected, although so soon after the winter scheme closed, it was also possible that it simply hadn't yet fully 'reared its head'.

Winter indemnity scheme

The UHUK chair said the organisation remained concerned about the impact that the scheme’s closure will have. ‘We had hoped for the indemnity scheme to continue until the [state-backed indemnity scheme] comes in from 2019. Without the winter indemnity scheme, recruiting GPs will be harder - especially as out-of-hours payments are not particularly high and GPs can find higher payments by taking on other types of work.

‘There is no doubt that the future of general practice including urgent care services will depend on multidisciplinary services, however there are some patients, notably those with co-morbidities and complex problems, who will always require a GP for the most effective care. If services are struggling to fill those shifts, the risk to patients will increase.

Dr Vautrey added: 'The introduction of a state-backed indemnity scheme from next April will be a major improvement but until then there is an urgent need to support doctors prepared to do out-of-hours sessions.'

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