A different kind of appraisal

by Sarah Westerbeek and Kalindi Tumurugoti

COVID-19 has posed a challenge to professionalism of doctors

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 23 September 2020
Detail of a woman in a bright yellow top writing in a document with a nice pen

The past six months have been gruelling personally and professionally for all of us.

The effects of the COVID pandemic on the way that we work in general practice, along with the significant adaptations to our home lives, has meant we have all had to reframe our idea of ‘normal’. For many of us, it has led to increased levels of stress, anxiety, isolation and low mood.

For some, it has put a significant financial strain upon ourselves and our families with the loss of normal work opportunities, particularly for locums. For others, the worry for their own health and that of their families has been huge.

Trying to manage all of these external stressors while maintaining our professionalism has been a new challenge that most of us have not faced before. One of the things that many would agree has been a help has been the temporary cessation of appraisals, giving us one less concern to worry about. So the recent announcement that appraisals are due to gradually restart from October, with an aim to resume normal activity by April 2021, may or may not be welcome news.

If, like me, the thought of appraisal slightly fills you with dread (alongside the annual failure to update your portfolio as you go along) fear not: there have been some significant changes to this year’s appraisal which should make it a less stressful process for all!

Firstly, the return of appraisal can be looked at as a positive thing, with NHS England and the GMC stating that appraisal this year should be focused on the health and wellbeing of staff, rather than on the usual CPD credits.

As mentioned above, we have all been under strain this year and having a supportive, confidential and dedicated space to debrief and decompress about our experience of the pandemic will hopefully strengthen us going forwards. Many of us may not have had the opportunity to do this in any structured way over the past six months and it may be more needed than we realise.

The responsible officers have been advised to ensure additional flexibility for appraisees should deferral or adjustments be required. This hopefully means that if further COVID-19 spikes were to occur this would be taken into account with regards to our appraisal timing/preparation.

If you have logged on to your eportfolio you will no doubt notice significant changes to the format of your online appraisal, with headline areas for reflecting on personal and professional wellbeing and achievements, challenges and aspirations.

The more usual clinical areas of appraisal, such as CPD, audit, case review, feedback, PUNS and DENs etc, are all now grouped in one area named supporting evidence. The supporting documentation issued from NHS England states that we are not expected to fill in these more clinical areas unless there is something we specifically wish to discuss with our appraiser.

Again, there is no expectation that we should have completed our PDP from last year, but we are invited to reflect and discuss if there are areas we have covered, or if there are items we wish to carry forward to next year. As always, we would be expected to complete the sections on significant events and complaints if applicable, which is no bad thing as these discussions can often be helpful.

Testing has indicated that the whole appraisal preparation should take just over 30 minutes to complete, which is a major reduction on the usual time we all dedicate to getting our appraisal up to scratch.

You should all be receiving emails from your responsible officers outlining the exact details of what is and what is not expected, but I would urge you to take this opportunity to reflect deeply on what your experiences have been over the past six months, and how this unusual time has affected you not only as GP but also as a person. After all, that is what appraisal is supposed to be about.

Sarah Westerbeek is a sessional GPs executive committee member


Appraisal re-start key facts

The restart of appraisals will, as explained above, bring with it changes to the appraisal format. These will be applicable for approximately 12 months from the 1 October 2020.

  • These changes are very welcome, considering many sessional GPs have had lots of issues, as outlined above
  • All appraisals are likely to be virtual and the duration of the actual appraisals remains the same, eg two hours
  • There will be new template with nine questions and it’s mainly focussed on wellbeing of doctors. It is expected that it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to prepare for the appraisal
  • There is no need to produce any evidence and it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve worked during the pandemic or not. There will be lot of flexibility, with great emphasis being put on how we all coped during this time
  • It doesn’t matter what type and volume of work you’ve been doing (whether you’ve been doing telephone triage, OOH only, admin support only, prison work, etc)
  • All complaints have to be listed and those who have missed appraisal during the pandemic will have to list all complaints at their next appraisal in 2021
  • Your respective area team will have a generic email to answer queries on appraisals, and someone will keep an eye on the inbox and signpost or respond as appropriate. So please do communicate with your appraiser or local area team for any further clarification.

Kalindi Tumurugoti  is a sessional GPs committee member