Free to roam

Being a sessional GP allows doctors to work in a varied number of scenarios – and to build in travel, too. Tim Tonkin speaks 
to two people who have made the most of the role

Location: UK
Published: Monday 12 June 2023
Dr Turney 2

From before he had even entered medical school, Luke Turley knew that his wide-ranging interests and ambitions were likely to make a traditional, linear career path challenging.

Having studied music alongside his chemistry and biology A-levels, much to the consternation of his tutors, Dr Turley (pictured above) went on to complete his medical qualification and foundation years, while trying to figure out what his path in medicine should be.

Deciding general practice offered the broadest range of clinical experiences, Dr Turley became a GP working on a sessional basis.

It is a choice he credits for having enabled him to work across an incredibly diverse range 
of settings including the prison estate, the armed forces, healthcare projects overseas and, most recently, helping to run a small hospital in the Outer Hebrides.

‘I thrive on the unknown and the new, I like to travel, and I have a habit of saying “yes” to things,’ explains Dr Turley. ‘Without being a sessional GP, I wouldn’t be able to do most of the things that I do in my career or even a lot of the stuff outside of my career.’

Without being a sessional GP, I wouldn’t be able to do most of the things that I do in my career
Dr Turley

Raising awareness of the sessional GP role, the flexibility it can provide to those who pursue it as a career path and the benefits it can give to the health service, is the focus of a week of activities and events hosted by the BMA from 12 to 16 June.

While the partnership model in general practice remains vitally important and the ultimate goal many GPs aspire to, Dr Turley believes many doctors working in primary care do not always give full consideration to it.

‘I think for my generation of GP registrars it was almost sort of drummed into you that when you qualified there were three jobs or phases to being a GP,’ explains Dr Turley.

‘First you start off as a locum with different practices until you find a practice that you like and you join as a salaried GP, before eventually going for a partnership.

‘It was only after finishing my MRCGP that I realised there were so many other aspects to general practice that were never publicised and that I never knew that I actually had the opportunity to do.’


Welcome experience

Having worked as a portfolio GP since 2008, Dr Turley has had the opportunity to work in a range of different environments developing skills and experience, much of which he has been able to apply to his work as a community GP.

These experiences include working as a prison GP and later helping to found a company providing healthcare services to the prison estate, and providing care to service personnel in the British Army and Royal Navy, both at UK bases and during training exercises in locations such as Cyprus and Kenya.

His work with the MoD overseas in part led him to participate in short-term, charity-led projects aimed at developing health services in parts of Africa, most recently in Uganda teaching emergency medicine and maternity care skills to health professionals based in rural locations.

Dr Singh Dr Singh (right) during his time in Nepal

Before entering general practice, Jatinder Singh had been an anaesthetics trainee but had ultimately decided a career in this specialty would limit opportunities for one of the aspects of medicine he most cherishes, patient contact and interaction.

Working as a GP in Manchester, Dr Singh quickly realised that, as well as caring for patients in the community, he was eager to pursue other interests and saw sessional work as a way of going about this.

‘When I started general practice, I did the traditional five-day setup, and then fairly quickly started to kind of become more of a portfolio GP. I did a little bit of work with the clinical commissioning group as the prescribing lead for North Manchester. This led to me becoming involved with the LGBT Foundation and Pride in Practice.’


Conflict zone

Combining his interest in tackling health inequalities and his work with the LGBT Foundation ultimately led Dr Singh to get involved with local clinicians in setting up the Indigo gender service, a pilot scheme aimed at addressing the health needs of trans and non-binary patients.

Dr Singh has also worked overseas with organisations such as PHASE Nepal which provides care and support to remote communities in Nepal, and UK-MED, an organisation that delivers frontline medical services in natural disaster and conflict zones.

‘I was deployed to Ukraine last year; it was my first ever deployment in the conflict zone,’ says Dr Singh. ‘[This work] gives so many different opportunities to explore provision of healthcare in low-resource and high stress settings and you get to work with lots of passionate people from all over the world. I think (being a sessional GP) that’s the main reason why I’ve been able to do all these things.’

This work gives so many different opportunities to explore provision of healthcare
Dr Singh

These are just some of the examples of positive experiences and outcomes that have been experienced by those undertaking careers as sessional GPs. The BMA has and will continue to support sessional GPs, as demonstrated by its Sessional GPs week.

As part of its sessional GP week, the BMA has produced a range of resources designed to inform and support doctors including a guide for salaried GPs to get the most out of their careers, a webinar on maintaining personal wellbeing and guidance on digital locum banks.

Dr Turney 1 Dr Turley (left) in Uganda where he was part of a team setting up rural breast cancer screening

BMA sessional GPs committee co-chairs Samira Anane and Bethan Roberts say they hoped the event would draw wider attention to the contributions of portfolio GPs and empower those doctors already working in such roles.

‘We hope that highlighting the diverse nature of work being done by sessional GPs will demonstrate the enormous value that these doctors bring to the GP workforce. We also hope that promoting the various resources available to sessional GPs can help support individual members and that the sessional committee and the wider BMA area available to members who need support.’