Supporting sessional GPs during the COVID-19 crisis

Terms, conditions and pay must not be scrimped on during the coronavirus pandemic, says BMA sessional GPs committee chair Ben Molyneux
Location: UK
Published: Thursday 23 April 2020
 Ben Molyneux is chair of the BMA sessional GPs committee

As a sessional GP, COVID-19 is a scary prospect.

As doctors we have the dual worries about our families and ourselves, and about our patients – but as sessionals we also have to worry about our financial livelihoods and the need to consider if the worst happens to us on the front line. 

This is why we have been working every day to get protections for locum and salaried GPs, to ensure that if we are sick in the line of duty, or if we die, our families are protected. NHS England has devised a series of contracts to cover retired returners, GPs already working in practices, and we are expecting a contract for locum GPs. They are each slightly different, but the pay, leave and death-in-service entitlements for each are similar. 

The BMA sessional GPs committee is fully supportive of Government efforts to shore up as much workforce availability as possible, but we do not accept this should be done on the cheap. We cannot accept rates of pay that are lower than most GPs earn, and/or terms and conditions inferior to the model salaried contract. Given the commitments already made, that all additional costs will be covered, we expect the Government and NHS England to confirm they will reimburse practices, out of hours or federations if they use local schemes instead of this national system. 

This is why we have created an ‘off-the-shelf’ contract for use in your locality. We have heard many areas want to support their GP workforce and this tool enables them to do so in a bespoke way. We have highlighted that terms and conditions should ordinarily be comparable with those in the model GP contract but left flexibility for local determination.

The locum landscape looks very different across the country right now, with 111 and walk-in centres swamped, London getting busier by the day, but other areas strangely quiet. It’s impossible to predict the next few months accurately but what is clear is that a pent-up demand for ‘business-as-usual’ GP work is rising, along with the COVID-19 burden. The sessional workforce is going to be needed more than ever in the coming months to manage this and we think it is important to ensure each of us is protected and valued.

These contracts are voluntary, and those who choose to continue engaging directly in a self-employed manner can carry on. However, we recognise that many sessional GPs would want the security of a flexible employment that confers sick leave and death-in-service benefits, which NHS England and BMA contracts offer. 

As ever, we are here to support our members so get in touch if you have any concerns or suggestions for us.