'Workload reduced, concentration improved' - how the GP Retention Scheme can revitalise GPs

Dr Sarah Matthews, a former GP partner in the West Midlands, writes for GPonline about how the GP Retention Scheme has provided the flexibility to help her remain in clinical practice.

Dr Sarah Matthews (Photo: BMA)
Dr Sarah Matthews (Photo: BMA)

It’s possible you might not have heard of the GP Retention Scheme. Or, if you have, you may think it’s an early career job, or just for women with young children. The scheme can work for both of those groups, but there’s more to it than that.

I am a mid-to-late-career GP who has been a partner for an extended period. When I left partnership in 2019, I knew I wasn’t looking to jump straight back into that commitment elsewhere, so I had a look around at the options.

I was keen to remain in clinical practice, and had read about the revamped scheme when it launched. One of the groups encouraged to consider this option are those with portfolio work, who need increased flexibility to deliver the element of their work which is not face-to-face practice.

Flexible working

As an LMC secretary in the Midlands, that sounded just like me. The key aim of the retention scheme is to keep vulnerable GPs at risk of leaving the profession within the workforce. It supports the retained GP and the practice employing them by offering financial support.

It does this in recognition of the fact that the role is different to a ‘regular’ part-time, salaried GP post - offering greater flexibility and educational support. For example, the need for short clinics due to personal health reasons, or caring responsibilities. It is also possible to take on annualised hours which supports school holidays without using all the holiday leave.

One of the challenges of the current scheme is that you must find a practice that is willing to take you on and that understands the benefits the scheme offers them. Having shortlisted (in my head) and approached my first-choice practice, they agreed to interview me. This was a bit of a novelty as the last time I had been interviewed for a clinical post was in 2001.

The senior partner asked if I might find it difficult being outside the partners’ group in terms of decision making and leadership. She was right, this is the greatest tension. But I find the partners friendly and approachable, and I am welcome to share my view on issues as they arise, even if I can’t then participate in the discussion and decision making.

Clinical work

The practice team has been keen to make use of my existing skills and I was keen to use them. So, I have joined their trainer group and worked with the organiser of some in-house teaching so that we can deliver sessions together.

We have now moved our meetings to Microsoft Teams and we still get good engagement from a wide group within the clinical team. It has been a key element of settling our new team members, such as the physician associate and the clinical pharmacist, especially as the work patterns currently tend to be isolated.

One recurrent issue of complaint for retainers is that they do not get the terms of their contract; the days are too long, the supervision sessions are not there, the study leave is not used in the intended way.

Sometimes I acknowledge that there are pressures in the system for us and it does not run perfectly for me, either. There was some scepticism about my allocated amount of leave - and of the need for supervision sessions. But I think there is good intention on both sides and we have worked to adjust what is on the book each month to move it more in line with the contract.

At this point, my days are a dream; my workload is considerably reduced and my concentration on both sides of my job much better than before. I remain aware that this is only possible because of working with a strong, well organised partners’ group which engages with a progressive network. But for me, right now, it’s a great solution.

Sarah Matthews is a GP in the West Midlands.

  • The BMA is hosting a free webinar on the GP retention scheme on Thursday 25 February. It is open to BMA members and non-members. You can register here.

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