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Is the NHS sleepwalking into crisis?

The number of patients waiting too long for routine operations has risen to its highest level in nearly a decade.

New NHS data shows over 400,000 people waited longer than the official 18-week target for non-urgent treatment in August, with hundreds remaining on waiting lists for more than a year.

The latest waits are the highest for a single month since 2008, while the number of patients treated within the NHS target has fallen to its lowest point since 2011.

This has caused a strain on the NHS services in the summer months which is normally seen in winter.

The raft of new NHS statistics also laid bare strains in other areas as patients faced longer waits in A&E and cancer treatment times had slipped, although bed blocking rates had improved.

To ensure the NHS is able to cope with the inevitable spike in demand during the winter period, the Government needs to urgently put in place measures to address the funding, capacity and recruitment issues facing the system as a whole.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the “shocking” figures showed how the winter crisis had extended to the rest of the year, prompting concerns over patient wellbeing.

Earlier, Mr Hunt told GPs there was no “silver bullet” to the problems facing them, but the Government was “absolutely committed” to increasing funding and capacity.

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The Importance of Locums

A GP online poll in 2016 suggested that three in five GP surgeries had to rely a great deal on locums to ensure they could provide services to patients.

23% of surgeries needed locums to provide nearly a fifth of GP appointments during the last year. (The poll had 370 partners and salaried GPs)

This was an increase compared to a similar poll conducted by GPonline last year. Last year just 14% said over a fifth of appointments were conducted by locums.

Around 6% of GPs confirmed more than 40% of appointments in their practice were being covered by locums.

The GPC said the data showed the ‘serious’ impact of workforce shortages and showed the essential role of locums.

GPC sessional committee chair Dr Zoe Norris warned earlier this month that many vulnerable practices would collapse overnight if doctors were forced out of locum roles.

Around 59% of GPs said the amount of appointments filled by locums in their surgeries increased over the last year.

It is becoming apparent that the NHS needs locums with their floating coverage in order to sustain services and relieve Partners for holidays or other commitments as surgeries are too stretched to be able to provide that cover from in-house. Shouldn’t NHS England and the local CCGs do more to support this fundamental part of the workforce instead of trying to force them out?

Doctors to declare private earnings

NHS England have announced plans to publish NHS Consultants earnings from private work undertaken in their own free time outside their NHS contracts by April next year.
It’s estimated that half of the 46,000 consultants in England top up their average £112,000 per year earnings by doing private work.

The concerns raised are in relation to conflicts of interest and suggestions that some may delegate much of their NHS work to junior colleagues which can in turn increase waiting times. There is even suggestion that some may take advantage of extended waiting lists to syphon off additional private work to line their own pockets.

Sir Malcolm Grant, Chairman of NHS England, stated on the matter: ‘We have a responsibility to use the £110bn healthcare budget provided by the taxpayer to the best effect possible for patients, with integrity, and free from undue influence. Spending decisions in healthcare should never be influenced by thoughts of private gain.’

However Neil Tolley, Chairman of the London Consultants’ Association disagreed with the plans saying: ‘What you earn in your own time is your own business and nothing to do with the NHS. We are very suspicious that this information will be used for political purposes.’ He continued: ‘I don’t feel there’s any conflict of interest. If you’re a doctor doing private work, that will already be with the knowledge of your hospital. You are already showing transparency.’

Will GPs be next on the hit list for transparency of earnings?

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Farmer’s Tan

As a nation we love to talk about the weather and in my experience we do so often. It can be a way of starting a conversation with a stranger or a way of breaking an uncomfortable silence with a friend, family member or loved one.
We can’t even escape it if we pick up a newspaper or switch on the television and radio to listen to the news. It can unite us and it can divide us. In fact, so significant is the impact that the weather is having on people that it is no wonder it features regularly as a topical item for discussion.
In relation to healthcare, most professionals dread the winter months, as during this period our elderly and most vulnerable are at the greatest risk from the extremes of the weather.
Primary and secondary care nearly buckles under the weight of unprecedented demand year after year and each winter takes longer and longer to recover from.
Indeed, many who work in healthcare are already bracing themselves for this year’s winter onslaught.
There is already panic spreading into every boardroom of every Hospital and CCG across England, as the sudden realisation dawns upon us that all of the winter pressure wards are still open from last year, so where will we put our patients?
But it isn’t just the cold that we need to concern ourselves with. This year has seen severe snow, lots of rain, flooding and not enough sunshine.
The lack of sunshine becomes even more problematic, especially if we consider sunshine in relation to Vitamin D. Small amounts of Vitamin D can be obtained from food such as oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals, but mostly it is synthesized by the body through exposure to sunshine.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone and muscle problems – yet another impact of the unpredictable weather patterns here in England.
The question therefore is, “should everybody in England be on Vitamin D supplements at certain times of the year?” Previous advice suggested this should be the case, particularly for pregnant women, people who are not exposed to the sun regularly and ethnic minority groups with dark skin.
New guidelines from Public Health England extend this advice to cover everybody in the UK during autumn and winter months.
The advice from Public Health England is supported by research carried out by the University of Manchester and Salford Royal Hospitals.
In a study of white children aged 12-15 it was found that 16% of those involved had lower than required levels of Vitamin D in their blood by the end of the summer period. This study focused on one season of the year and when it was extended to cover all four seasons, the study concluded that 75% of those involved failed to reach the level it should be by the end of winter.
As such, future studies are now underway focusing on people aged 65-84. The impact of poor muscle and bone health will be another significant health concern and financial headache for the NHS in the future, especially with an ageing population.
If 1 in 5 of the population will not get the necessary Vitamin D from the sun that is required to prevent bone disease, then action must be taken.
Regardless of how impractical or undesirable it is, the only course of action is to consider supplementation for all. At first glance, this may seem like yet another thing for GPs to do in their already busy day. But, if Vitamin D was prescribed to all during autumn and winter then these recommendations have the potential to alleviate some pressure on services, at the very least by avoiding the need to refer patients for screening for Vitamin D deficiency.

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GP Rebellion Quashed!

In what has been seen by many as a shock change of stance, the GPC have announced that it will not ballot their membership in relation to mass resignation. The idea was always a controversial one, but a decision that many were considering nether the less, which reflects the profession’s level of frustration with the Government and the slow pace of reform. After all, this type of threat has been used successfully in the past to lure the Government to the negotiating table, when all other attempts have failed.

In this instance, the ballot was avoided as early indications do appear to demonstrate that some headway is being achieved in relation to workloads, and the Government now appears ready to negotiate. NHS England has reportedly decided to take on board a number of suggestions from the BMA’s, Urgent Prescription for General Practice, and these will form the basis of future negotiations.
These relate to:
– Ensuring that GPs work within safe workload limits each day.
– Enabling GPs to have longer appointments, in particular for those patients with multiple and complex problems.
– Ending inappropriate workload that could be done by other services within the NHS.
– Empowering patients to better manage their own health when appropriate.
– Ending inefficient bureaucracy, such as chasing up hospital actions or re-referring patients.
– Providing GP practices with more frontline staff and facilities to meet increasing demand.

Whatever your stance concerning mass resignation, if the Government and GP leaders are successful in these negotiations then there is real potential for significant change across the Primary Care system. The system at least has a chance of becoming more efficient, especially now that more clinicians are involved in reform than ever before. Interestingly, General Practice Forward View is not being cited as having been successful in avoiding the ballot or future industrial action by the profession.

Other signs that workload inequity is beginning to reform can be seen at the hospital/general practice interface. The NHS Standard Contract now stipulates 6 requirements to be upheld, and these include:

1. Hospitals are prevented from discharging patients automatically back to their GP, if they fail to attend an outpatient appointment.
2. Hospitals are required to send discharge summaries for inpatient, day case or A&E care within 24 hours and must be standardised so that GPs can find key information in the summary more easily. This should be electronic whenever reasonably possible, and Commissioners are required to facilitate this approach to handling the summaries.
3. Hospitals are to communicate clearly and promptly with GPs following outpatient clinic attendance. If there are actions for the GP, then this needs to be communicated in a timely and achievable fashion.
4. Patients should be referred directly on to other services where reasonably possible and the Hospital should avoid re-referral back to the GP, especially for non-urgent conditions directly related to the complaint or condition which caused the original referral. Re-referral for GP approval is only required for onward referral of non-urgent, unrelated conditions.
5. Hospitals to supply patients with medication following discharge from inpatient or day case care. Medication must be supplied for the period established in local practice or protocols, but must be for a minimum of seven days (unless a shorter period is clinically necessary).
6. Hospitals to organise the different steps in a care pathway promptly and to communicate clearly with patients and GPs. This specifically includes a requirement for hospitals to notify patients of the results of clinical investigations and treatments in an appropriate and cost-effective manner, for example, telephoning the patient.

It is estimated that this reform will release up to 13.5 million appointments a year and will therefore create additional capacity to care. Additional capacity is a commodity for all Practices, and therefore one can only hope that any time that may come as a result is used wisely by GP Leaders and Practice Managers. There is no doubt that workloads do need to be addressed and there is no doubt that the Government and NHS England has its part to play. One has to consider though, that if we are to avoid freed capacity just filling up with more of the same, then frontline teams have their part to play too. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
England is facing a GP shortage and so now is the time to ensure current workloads are analysed to identify what work lies only within the scope of practice of GPs and what work can be done by other professionals. There is a real opportunity to ensure that the right care is provided in the right place at the right time by the right staff. Otherwise, the only other outcome for the future will be the profession will once again resort to yet another threat of mass resignation and the cycle just continues.

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GP Mass Resignation.

In January 2016, at a special LMC conference delegates voted overwhelmingly to carry a motion proposing that the GPC should canvass GP’s on their willingness to submit undated letters of resignation. At that time www.dealdirectlocums.com reported on the likelihood of a mass resignation from GPs across England. The only caveat to avoid such action was for successful negotiations with Government to take place. GPs have been demanding an equitable and sustainable rescue package for General Practice for years. A deadline of six months was issued before industrial action would be considered.

Six months have now elapsed and during this week the GPC will be informing LMCs on their decision about whether or not the profession will be balloted in relation to mass resignation. It seems likely that a ballot is imminent despite lots of engagement with NHS England, as not all of the demands of the GPC which are outlined in the ‘Urgent Prescription for General Practice’ have been met. ‘General Practice Forward View’ has generated mixed opinions across the profession, and despite some seeing the reforms as a step in the right direction; the changes they are set to bring about may not be radical enough to prevent the ballot from going ahead.
The measures that GP’s are insisting must be enforced include:

– The introduction of 15 minute consultations.
– A maximum limit on the numbers of patients that a GP can see in a day.
– A detailed list of services, not currently covered in core GMS, which are optional for Practices and are subject to national benchmarks in relation to pricing.
– Cessation of duplication concerning CQC and NHS performer list registrations.
– Agreement of nationally defined contract for GPs employed by other providers.
– The creation of a new care home DES.

Compounding these issues are increasing demand, low recruitment and retention rates, professional isolation, increasing rates of stress and mental health amongst the profession, and creeping indemnity fees. These issues are making General Practice an unattractive place to practice medicine. The solution for many within the profession is simple; the Government need to provide better contracts and working conditions for their workforce. With a more motivated and engaged workforce comes better patient satisfaction and outcomes. One therefore has to ask, why is the Government not doing everything within their power to stop this from becoming a reality? This isn’t just about pay, as reports from across the media suggest, but instead it is about time and investment, and the inevitability of real system change that can result if both are made available.

With most Practices being private businesses, the issues within General Practice are financially, morally, politically and ethically a minefield to traverse. GP’s want the best for their patients, but the ballot is a long time coming for many, and the Government doesn’t appear to be taking the necessary steps to avoid industrial action. There is widespread opinion from many within the ranks of the LMCs that the ballot is being welcomed by Government, who would be happy to lose the independent provider status of GPs, especially as the media once again aggravates stories of privatization of the NHS. Half-hearted attempts to ease lay members of the public don’t cut to the heart of the problems in General Practice and that is why the GPC may call to arms. Only real reform and a real commitment from the Government will prevent GPC members from voting with their feet.

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Compensation Nation

Medical indemnity and the fees that some GPs have to pay, is once again hitting the general practice arena, but this time the news is of a more positive note. Hope is on the horizon, and the first signs are now visible that ‘General Practice Forward View’ will soon begin to make a difference for those being hit hardest by the dramatic fee hikes. ‘Forward View’ promises large scale reform of some of the more inefficient, outdated and unfair working conditions facing today’s modern profession. It has recently been announced that with immediate effect NHS England will release £60million of funding, over a 2 year period, to Practices across the country in an effort to combat spiralling costs associated to indemnity fees.

In recent years fees have risen dramatically, as a result of an ever increasing number of claims being made against the profession. When claims have been successful, in some instances, the awards paid have been relatively staggering in their amounts. Ironically this comes at a time when quality and safety has never rated so highly amongst patients in relation to their service. With an upward trend in claims being made and the ‘compensation’ culture affecting the whole of the NHS, the situation looks set only to worsen.

Conservative estimations place fee rises during the last twelve months at 26%, which has affected 90% of all GPs. Clearly this isn’t sustainable for the workforce and it is also affecting where GPs choose to work. The greatest risks and therefore the greatest costs are associated to locum, urgent care and out of hours work. It’s often much cheaper for GPs to work part-time, which at a time when GP workloads are at saturation point is a major cause for concern. We need our GP workforce to work more sessions, not less. We should be incentivising the profession to give more and reap the rewards of their hard work and dedication. We shouldn’t be forcing GPs to work in other areas of the UK where it is more affordable to work because litigation claims, and the amounts paid out for successful claims are significantly lower than in England.

In the latest news it has been revealed that the additional money will be shared out according to the list size of individual Practices, and this will not be influenced by the current indemnity fees of the GPs working there. In the process that will no doubt follow this news, one can only hope that this additional funding filters through to the Locum workforce, to ensure equity to all of the profession. Locums can be the life line for many Practices across England, but often face some of the dramatic charges reported within the media.

It is too early to assess how much of a difference this cash injection will make in the pockets of GPs. £60million may not even scratch the surface, with some in the profession speculating that by just throwing money at the problem this may only prove to worsen the current situation in the future. NHS England and the Government need to take steps towards standardising and legitimising the amounts paid out by the MDU and MPS, if the ‘blame and claim’ culture is truly to be overcome. The rising and unrealistic expectations of the general public need to be addressed, especially when resource and funding fall short in attempts to meet demand.

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NHS to set cap on Locum GPs pay

NHS England proposes setting a maximum rate for Locum doctors pay, based on a set of rates which may have some regional variation.
The bid to cap GP locum rates follows government announcements that fees will be capped for all agency staff, not just doctors, working in hospitals.

If NHS England succeeds in setting a rate they will likely also amend the electronic declaration system to include recording on the number of instances where a practice pays a locum doctor more than the maximum indicative rate.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey suggested that implementing caps would potentially be against competition law. He argues that efforts should instead be directed towards increasing capacity within practices.

It has been reported that GP Locum rates have increased by over 5% nationally in the last year, while GP partner income has fallen by 25% over the last 10 years.

Is this a move to push the ever increasing wave of newly qualified GPs choosing to Locum as a career back towards being Partners? Shouldn’t they be trying to make Partnership more appealing instead?
This is a view agreed by Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctor Association who said, “There is no incentive whatsoever to be a partner in general practice right now because you carry all the risk and all the blame and none of the money. Until partnership incomes rise well above the level we pay our salaried doctors, we will never recruit people into partnership and we will always be struggling to find salaried doctors and locums to fill the gaps.”
The proposals for now do not prevent locums and practices agreeing the appropriate rate for work undertaken.

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CPD Events

As a Locum it can often be difficult to get those essential elements completed for your Annual Appraisal.

BLS needs to be updated annually. Safeguarding needs to be updated every 3 years.

You also need 2 SEA discussions per year.

If you’re not in a regular surgery you often get overlooked when it comes to in-house training and meetings.

That’s why we offer to organise Free CPD events for our members.

If you have any requests then drop us an e-mail on cpd@dealdirectlocums.com with your requirements and we will try to facilitate these.

Thanks to those who attended our last BLS and AED course in November held in Manchester – We believe the Krusty Crème Donuts went down a treat!