Retired doctors will have an option to “keep caring” and re-join the NHS to carry out outpatient appointments in a new initiative to help reduce waiting lists.
From autumn, newly-retired doctors will be able to sign up to a new digital platform where they will be able to offer their availability to trusts across England to perform outpatient appointments, either virtually or in person.
NHS hospitals will choose the consultant whose skillset and availability best matches the appointments they need covered, which are scheduled and arranged with patients in the normal way.
More than four-fifths of people on the waiting list require an outpatient appointment such as a follow-up for cardiology or rheumatology – rather than a surgical procedure.
Consultants carrying out remote appointments could be based anywhere in England, which can help those hospitals in areas with higher demand.
Those requiring a face-to-face appointment or follow-up will be seen in the usual way.
The platform will aim to provide trusts with an alternative to using expensive agency staff, while allowing experienced specialists who want to keep working in the NHS a bit longer with a route back in with more flexibility.
Workforce data shows about 1,000 consultants leave the NHS for retirement each year.
The new tool will help to deliver the NHS Elective Recovery Plan, the most ambitious catch-up programme in health service history, helping to cut the longest waits ahead of the next target of virtually eliminating waits of more than 65 weeks by March 2024.
The first target of virtually eliminating two year waits was met last summer and despite the twindemic of Covid and flu, which contributed to the busiest winter the NHS has seen, coupled with disruptive industrial action, 18 month waits have been cut by 90%.
Speaking at NHS Confed Expo, Amanda Pritchard, NHS Chief Executive, said: “Ahead of the NHS 75th birthday in July, this new platform is an innovative example of how we are constantly adapting the way we work to benefit patients by helping to reduce waiting times as well as supporting staff.
“Using this digital tool will help us to match patients with retired doctors who we know are keen to stay working in a flexible way so they can keep caring for patients, as well as allowing us to expand capacity to see even more patients – and faster.
“NHS staff have already made excellent progress against our Elective Recovery Plan – and this platform will not only help us continue to reduce the longest waits but it will also help us slash agency spend, using the existing capacity of experienced doctors who still have so much to offer the NHS”.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “Cutting waiting lists is one of the government’s top five priorities, and these innovative measures will help our approach by matching the right consultants with appropriate patients and focusing on areas with the highest demand.
“Technology is transforming the NHS, and this digital platform will ensure that more patients receive the highest quality care from experienced consultants when and where they need it.
“We have already made significant progress in busting the backlogs by virtually eliminating the longest waits for treatment, while 18-months waits have fallen by more than 91% from their September 2021 peak”.
All appropriate checks are carried out before consultants become fully registered on the platform, to ensure patient safety, and the programme will be open to recently-retired consultants with NHS experience, who have an active registration on the specialist register and the General Medical Council registry, who also hold Certificate of Completion of Training.
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