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Flexible working for retired consultants made possible with new NHS Emeritus pilot scheme

A new platform allowing recently retired consultants who still hold a license to return to the NHS in a more flexible capacity has been launched by NHS England as part of a range of measures to bring down the elective care backlog.

The NHS Emeritus pilot scheme will run for a year across England and it is expected Emeritus consultants will be able to start carrying out appointments from February 2023.

This will follow a full registration process, which includes pre-employment checks and face-to-face interviews with NHS Professionals.

Once registered, a cloud-based platform will link Emeritus consultants with secondary care providers who upload the activity they would like supported. This could range from outpatient appointments, specialist advice requests and education and training support.

The Emeritus consultants can then express their interest in undertaking the specific work listed, and providers will choose the consultant whose skillset and availability best matches the appointments they need covered.

Appointments would be scheduled and arranged with patients in the normal way and carried out in-person or remotely, if clinically appropriate.

This means Emeritus consultants could be based anywhere in England and support hospitals in areas with workforces shortages in a particular specialty or a higher demand for services, or more remote areas where travel is difficult for patients.

The platform aims to provide trusts with an alternative to using agency staff, while allowing experienced specialists who are nearing retirement but want to keep working in the NHS longer, or recently-retired consultants who want to re-join, with an easy route back in with more flexibility.

Stella Vig, NHS national clinical director for elective care, said: ‘The NHS prides itself on its hard-working and committed staff, and it is often the most experienced and knowledgeable clinicians who are lost to the NHS once they retire, even though they still have a lot more they can give to benefit patients.

‘Many have said they want to be able to keep giving back to the health service once they have retired, but in a more flexible way – through the NHS Emeritus initiative, we can provide an opportunity for consultants to continue to work in the NHS in a way that fits in with their life and schedule, and ensures the NHS can still benefit from their skills and knowledge, whether that be through providing training and education, or continuing to see patients and help add much-needed capacity as we work toward our aims of bringing down the longest waits for elective care.’

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Consultant urologist Simon Williams is currently employed by University Hospitals of Derby and Burton, and going through the final stages of the registration process for the Emeritus scheme ahead of retiring soon.

He said: ‘Having spent 32 years working in the NHS I have built up a wealth of experience and skills. NHS Emeritus is a great way to continue to share that and still see patients, but in a more flexible way.

‘The programme will enable me to help trusts across the country using remote consultations, not just those in my local area, which could really help free up capacity for their consultants to see more patients in-person and help bring down some of the longer waits for routine appointments.’

Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘At a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented demands, paving a way for our recently retired experienced doctors to be able to contribute their skills again as emeritus consultants is a very welcome step forward.

‘As outlined in RCP’s Later Careers Guidance, we know that more than a third of physicians who are not yet retired say they want to retire early, but almost 60% of physicians would delay retirement if they could work flexibly or reduce their hours, highlighting that integrated flexible working would greatly improve retention.

‘We will closely follow the Emeritus pilot and very much hope that it offers a flexible opportunity for experienced physicians to once again provide vital care for their patients while importantly reducing waiting lists.’

If the pilot is successful, the scheme has the potential to be expended to cover other work areas, the NHS said.

Ms Vig added: ‘It’s a simple concept, but one that we hope will benefit everyone taking part – and we envisage that this is just the beginning, with the potential to broaden NHS Emeritus out to a wider cohort and to include different types of work in the future, which could benefit thousands of patients across the country.’

The new tool is one initiative being rolled out to help deliver the NHS Elective Recovery Plan and to cut the longest waits for routine care.

Recent research has suggested that the NHS must treat 10% more non-urgent hospital cases a month to reverse the increasing waiting list for elective care.