Why PCNs should engage with GP locums

GP locums are an important resource for primary care networks - and they have a valuable perspective. But how can networks ensure they are involved?

Dr Zoe Norris, portfolio GP and clinical director of Bridlington PCN in Yorkshire
Dr Zoe Norris, portfolio GP and clinical director of Bridlington PCN in Yorkshire

Dr Zoe Norris is in the unusual position of being a locum GP who has become clinical director of one of England's newly-formed primary care networks (PCNs). She believes that locums have a lot to offer networks and says it will be increasingly important for PCNs to enagage with their locum workforce and involve them in future developments.

However, a GPonline poll this week found that almost three quarters of locum GPs say they have not been sufficiently informed about how networks will work in their area and feel disengaged from their PCNs.

Dr Norris, who is leading Bridlington PCN, which is located in East Riding of Yorkshire CCG and covers six practices and 41,000 patients, says practice managers and GP partners should reach out to their locums to keep them up to date with what is happening with their network.

'Locums are often able to work in a different way because of their flexible portfolio careers, and this could benefit PCNs,' she says. 'They should be added to mailing lists and invited along to meetings to get them involved.'

Dr Norris says it is important that networks recognise that locums will also be affected by the new arrangements and different ways of working that could develop in future.

'Locums deliver local services alongside the rest of the multidisciplinary team and may well find they are being asked to alter their working hours or will see changes in how local practices are delivering services,' she says.

'Part of the idea behind PCNs is that they engage non-core members which would include local locums. After all, most locums work at the same five to six practices on a regular basis, and this could well be within the same PCN.'

Engaging with locums

Dr Norris acknowledges that currently most locums may remain unaware of what is happening locally with PCNs, but she says that as networks become more established this should change.

'Most of the work on PCNs to date has been behind the scenes, around planning and form filling,' she says. 'Once PCNs start to deliver services, it's likely locums will be more aware of them. And I'd hope PCNs begin to have the headspace to reach out to their local locums and tell them what they are planning to keep them engaged.'

Dr Kelsey Boddington, clinical director of West Somerset PCN, agrees that, with networks very much in their infancy and a lot of detail still to work out, engaging with locums hasn’t been an issue they have been able to devote time to - yet.

However, she says, it’s important to build a GP community network that is resilient and locums will have a key role to play as part of that.

'Regular locums do need to feel they belong, and they have a valuable role to play in PCNs,' says Dr Boddington. 'We would like to focus on involving them in due course.'

'Locums are often quite innovative, and business minded and may have more time to support us in this work,' says Dr Amit Rastogi, clinical director of Leicester City South PCN. 'Tapping into them as a resource would make sense. We plan to approach them once we have established what the PCN’s needs are.'

Being a locum and a clinical director

Dr Norris is in an unusual position of being a clinical director and a locum. However, she says, the flexibility of her role means that she is in a good position to take on the clinical director role.

'Like a lot of PCNs, mine is made up of surgeries and doctors who are all working hard and are flat out. None of the partners have the time or backfill to take on a clinical director role, and my flexibility has meant I can work around the many meetings and large amount of form filling that the role has involved so far.'

It also means she can bring a different perspective to the job. She explains: 'I am slightly removed from the practices as a locum, so when decisions are being made I have a degree of objectivity that means I can focus on the PCN.

'I hope it makes it easier for me to engage with our local locums and salaried GPs and know something about the positive resource that the sessional workforce can be.'

How locums can get themselves involved

Locums can also take steps themselves to familiarise themselves with what is going on with their local PCNs. If locums are keen to become more involved in the network Dr Norris recommends that they 'speak to the practices they are working at and ask what the plans for the PCN are, and how they might get involved'.

'Being on email lists or offering to talk to the clinical director about how they could get involved would be a great place to starm' she adds.

'Locums should also keep an eye out for the guidance and updates being produced by their LMC, the BMA and NHS England to keep themselves informed.'

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