Health bosses are hoping to lure recently retired hospital consultants back to the NHS by offering them the chance to work from home.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the plans would help clear care backlogs and ensure that doctors can continue to provide ‘care’ rather than retire completely.
They could work remotely from anywhere in the country, meaning they could help hospitals with the longest waiting times.
A record 7.4 million people are on an NHS waiting list, with more than four in five requiring an outpatient appointment – such as a follow-up for cardiology or rheumatology – rather than surgery.
Every year around 1,000 consultants retire from the NHS, losing their years of accumulated skills and knowledge.
The number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment in England rose to a record 7.42 million (red line) in April, figures show. More than 370,000 people lined up for routine surgeries, such as hip replacements, waited more than a year (yellow bars)
From the autumn, they can register on a website where they can indicate personally or virtually which hours they want to work.
Hospitals can use the platform to find consultants they need to help patients and reduce their waiting lists.
It is also hoped that the move will also reduce expensive agency expenses.
Ms Pritchard said at the NHS Confed Expo conference in Manchester: ‘We will set out how we want to keep people engaged at the end of their careers in a way that works for them.
“The experience of the pandemic has demonstrated the tremendous value of returnees in supporting today’s workforce.
‘And we have continued to bring back staff through the NHS reserves program to respond to spikes in demand or emergencies as they arise.
“We want to continue to provide return routes for employees with the skills we need.
“So as part of that, I can announce today that, starting this fall, newly retired physicians will have the opportunity to continue caring and further address the choice gap.
‘A new digital platform allows them to sign up for outpatient appointments – virtually or in person.
Local NHS trusts can upload details of the patients to be seen and they will then be matched with doctors, based on their availability and area of expertise.
“Creating this new route back has the potential to help us see patients faster, give regular doctors more time to spend on the most complex cases, and give trusts an alternative to using expensive agency workers.
“But just as importantly, it gives our most experienced specialists the opportunity to continue to contribute to the NHS, but in a way that suits their lives much better.”
An NHS spokesperson said all ‘appropriate checks’ will be carried out before newly retired consultants are fully registered on the platform and would require active registration in the specialist register and GMC register.
Meanwhile, Ms Pritchard said more work on staff retention was also important.
“We can’t invest in training and additional routes to get more people into healthcare if they find out the conditions aren’t right on arrival and they leave,” she said.
She said the long-awaited NHS staffing plan would be published ‘soon’.
The NHS has already announced that the staffing plan will include an expansion of apprenticeships for both doctors and nurses.
Commenting on the announcement, NHS Employers CEO Danny Mortimer said: ‘The NHS has already worked hard to clear the backlog, but concerted action is needed to go even further.
“With such high demand and with 432,000 outpatient appointments canceled or rescheduled due to the strikes over the past six months, health leaders will welcome reinforcements in the form of retired medics rejoining the service to lend their support.
“This is in addition to the flexibility the NHS already offers around retirement and working arrangements, so that vital talent can be retained.
‘While this new initiative is needed, 8 per cent of second-line medical posts are currently vacant, and so the concern is that it is little more than a Band-Aid for the much deeper staffing crisis that is hampering what the NHS can deliver.
“Leaders are eager to see how the government will respond to this challenge in its forthcoming workforce plan.”