More funding and support must urgently be given to retired doctors looking to return to medicine if the NHS staffing crisis is to be addressed, the BMA annual representative meeting heard.
Doctors attending the ARM overwhelmingly endorsed calls for the BMA to lobby NHS England, Health Education England and the GMC to work collaboratively towards removing the systemic barriers and lack of support that prevents many experienced doctors from re-joining the health service.
The conference heard how bureaucratic difficulties around medical registration and indemnity as well as the struggle to access a responsible officer for revalidation purposes was hampering the efforts of many retired doctors from coming back to the NHS.
East Sussex retired GP Hugh Nicholson told the ARM of the experience of one of his fellow-retired colleagues who found his attempts to return to frontline care frustrated.
He said: ‘After his retirement, this consultant was happy to return to the NHS to run clinics in his specialty. His revalidation was up to date, but his major obstacle was that he no longer had access to a responsible officer.
‘Indeed, one London trust suggested that he should have to pay to use the services of their responsible officer. His attempt to return to the NHS to do something useful, was frustrated by the inflexibility of the system.’
Efforts to entice retired doctors into the NHS took on a renewed focus during the height of the pandemic as NHS staff fought to respond to a surge in patient demand resulting from in infections and hospitalisations due to COVID-19.
While many retired doctors did return during the pandemic, the re-registration and recruitment process was beset with flaws and lead to the BMA retired members committee calling for an investigation.
Echoing the calls for more support, London retired GP Monica Aquilina said that existing return-to-work schemes were ‘patchy’ adding that this inconsistent approach was denying the NHS of being boosted by the return of highly skilled and experienced staff.
She said: ‘We do have a work force out there of fully trained experienced doctors, who for various reasons have retired. These doctors are available now [but] incredibly, there are so many barriers to them returning to work, and to have a supportive return to work.
‘The return to practice programme applies to GPs who have been out of practice for more than two years and there are support schemes for trainees when they're out of work after a career break, but what support is there for those experienced GPs who have been able to practice for less than two years?’
Despite having recently published its long-overdue Long-term Workforce Plan for the NHS, the BMA has warned that the strategy fails to adequately deal with staff retention, with doctors at the ARM likening the plans to ‘trying to fill a leaking bucket’.
Dr Nicholson said that while the Government and other organisations professed commitment to boosting NHS recruitment and retention, his own experience led him to believe that it was up to doctors and the BMA to ensure
He said: ‘Over 10 years ago, I brought these matters to concerning retention to my local MP. The reply I received is the market forces would sort it out. Market forces have subsequently driven doctors to leave the NHS for better pay and work/life balance in places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
‘The notion that the vital strategy for recruitment and retention can be left to the vagaries of the market is an abrogation of responsibility.’