Red tape is holding up the process of returning retired GPs to the workforce during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Healthcare Leader’s sister publication, Pulse, has learned.
GPs have told Pulse that since being re-registered with the GMC in March and filling out an NHS England application to be returned to the performers’ list, they have heard nothing.
One GP, who put life plans on hold to return to the NHS, described the process as ‘a deafening silence’, while the union Doctors in Unite deplored NHS England’s decision to put Capita in charge of administering the scheme to return retired doctors.
NHS England said applications were being processed ‘as quickly as possible’, while Capita – the company that handles primary care support services – claimed it had ‘mobilised resources very quickly’.
Dr Dominique Thompson, who retired from practising as a GP in Bristol in 2017, said: ‘It’s a deafening silence, which is so frustrating. I just had an email from a “no reply” address more than three weeks ago, saying I would hear in three days.’
Dr Thompson, who brought her wedding forward to focus on the pandemic, continued: ‘I don’t understand why they haven’t at least sent us all some online training to do, while they do our DBS checks.’
Her latest correspondence was an automated message from NHS England on 30 March.
It said: ‘Some of you may have already been contacted by our Regional Bring Back Staff hub, but just in case you haven’t heard from us, we are sorry about this and we are writing to reassure you that a member of one of our regional teams will be in touch with you within the next three days.’
The message urged GPs not to try to respond to the email inbox, which is ‘not managed’, adding: ‘Please don’t be discouraged – we will be in touch.’
Dr Una Coales, who ceased clinical practise as a GP in 2015, is also awaiting news, having been informed almost a month ago that her temporary GMC registration had been granted.
She said: ‘On 27 March, the GMC emailed that my registration has been restored, and that my name and contact details have been given to the health service in the country of my registered address and they have let them know I’m on the GP register.
‘I completed the linked survey about returning to work, and am still waiting for the next steps.
‘All I know is I’m to expect to be contacted according to the GMC email dated 27 March. But I have not received anything from NHS England as of today (20 April).’
The Government formally launched the ‘NHS needs you’ campaign over a month ago on 20 March, urging more than 65,000 former doctors and nurses – including 5,000 GPs – to return to work to support the efforts against coronavirus.
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘The NHS is now processing these thousands of applications as quickly as possible, making sure returners are matched to where their skills are most needed, so returning staff can get back on the front line and start doing what they do best.’
A Capita spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm that we are supporting the NHS to help vet and onboard thousands of returning nurses and doctors as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
‘At Capita, we’ve been responding to a number of requests from the Government to assist in the fightback against the coronavirus.
‘In this instance, we mobilised resources very quickly to respond to a critical NHS need; and have already enabled hundreds of returning clinicians to be deployed on the frontline.’
It comes amid a long back catalogue of issues with primary care support service failures since they were outsourced in 2015, including failures to update GP pension records and clinical correspondence going missing.
Doctors in Unite communications officer Dr Tom Riddington said: ‘We deplore the involvement of Capita in the administration of retired doctors’ return to the NHS workforce.
‘Reported delays of over two weeks to inclusion back on the performers’ list, while NHS 111 remains overwhelmed, are unacceptable.’
The GMC has re-registered more than 9,100 former GPs, among over 19,000 doctors, although doctors need to opt in to actually return to work.
NHS England said on 12 April that almost 5,000 former staff, including doctors, nurses and midwives, have rejoined the NHS after coming out of retirement, while a further 10,000 have completed checks.