COVID-19: GP Appraisal System 'Being Redesigned'

Peter Russell

July 13, 2020

The GP appraisal system is being overhauled as part of a response to COVID-19, NHS England has confirmed.

In a letter to GPs and their commissioners setting out the second-phase general practice response to the pandemic, it said the review was aimed at reducing bureaucracy so that doctors could concentrate on patient care.

"We want to anchor the new approach around professional development and support, focusing on well-being as well as minimise the supporting information requirements," it said.

Doctors would not be required to produce different documentation for their appraisal. "Many will have a lot of information already recorded in various online platforms, though we would be keen to signal flexibility in what is required this year," NHS England said.

Appraisals Suspended

In the meantime, appraisals would continue to be suspended, except in "exceptional circumstances".

The GMC has said that doctors who were due to revalidate between 17 March 2020 and 16 March 2021 have had their revalidation submission dates postponed for a year.

NHS England confirmed that, working with 'partner organisations', it would take a "flexible approach" to a reintroduction of appraisals. It would also accommodate doctors who were prepared for appraisal, perhaps prior to their revalidation date, and wanted to press ahead with the process.

The announcement followed a recent report by the Royal College of GPs that called on the Government to use the pandemic to sanction a "permanent reduction in red tape and bureaucracy" to enable doctors to spend more time with their patients.

It said that throughout the pandemic, general practice had shown it functions well with fewer contractual and regulatory compliance activities, and that, despite the need for regulation to safeguard patient safety and quality of care, there was a need to shift to a higher degree of trust.

Workload Increase

Predicting a continuing growth in patient demand, NHS England spelled out the task ahead for primary care. "We need general practice to continue its vital role in supporting high-risk patients with ongoing care needs, including those who have been in the 'shielding' cohort, those who may need to shield in future, care home residents, as well as the increasing need for COVID-19 aftercare and support. 

"But we also need practices to resume as soon as possible services which may have been paused, managing pre-existing conditions and urgent demand."

A major push to provide a comprehensive 'flu vaccination programme this winter is expected to add to workload.

The letter from NHS England promised to support GPs by making more funding available. A separate letter would be shared shortly on the COVID Support Fund for general practice, it said.

Expanding the workforce would be "critical to relieving the workforce pressures felt by many in general practice, enabling primary care to be sustainable into the future".

Dr Richard Vautrey, GP committee chair at the British Medical Association (BMA), said: "The details set out in this letter provide some clarity on what is expected of GP practices in the coming months as we move beyond the first wave of this pandemic."

He said the BMA was working with NHS England to make the new system more supportive and less bureaucratic.

"What’s more, GPs continue to work with the uncertainty of possible outbreaks in the future and the impact this could have on practice," Dr Vautrey said, adding: "We are also eagerly awaiting the details of the COVID fund, as was promised almost 4 months ago, with practices that acted swiftly in good faith yet to be reimbursed for additional costs they incurred."

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