Monday 16 June 2014

Response to charging RCGP members for access to ePortfolio

We were dismayed to  read the announcement that access to the Revalidation ePortfolio would no longer be free for members of College. Currently, this is a uniquely tangible benefit which has helped to encourage many to maintain their membership.

It may make a lot of sense for RCGP and Clarity Informatics to join forces in this way. However, very sadly, the deal announced (free for the first 4 years then 25% discount) will not be sufficient to deter many from cancelling their College membership.

Quite apart from the personal financial cost, this will increase the administrative burden on every member by requiring them to enter into a separate contract with Clarity.

RCGP should be able to negotiate with Clarity to provide access for each member for considerably less than £50. Their administrative costs would be lower if nothing else.

The ability to access both the Revalidation and Trainee ePortfolios using RCGP website login details is very convenient. We would urge College to restore universal access to members to such products and maintain this advantage.

We do hope RCGP will revisit this regrettable decision as a matter of urgency. College should be able negotiate with Clarity to get a sufficiently good deal to allow the use of a proportion of the membership fee to cover the cost so that it continues to remain free to members.

If anyone reading this agrees, please indicate your support by signing the ePetition.

** Update **

Interim response from Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard (RCGP Treasurer) on 1 July 2014

Whilst the 'official response' to you will follow in a week or so John, for the avoidance of doubt consider this an informal reply... it was I that insisted that we make it very clear to Council and give Council at lot of information and the chance to comment on the merger proposal (but without compromising the commercial sensitivity of it all), as this was a Trustee item that had been given due consideration and due diligence  intermittently over 18months, but we could see that some members might misunderstand the reasons and the positive side to the whole thing. As you know I am a firm believer that honesty and openness are the best policy, particularly for potentially sensitive issues. 
Clearly not every item or decision Trustees or Council makes can be tested on the entire membership - that’s what we use our delegated bodies/committees for: Trustee Board includes 4 non officer GPs (as well as myself, the Hon Sec, Chair and Chair of Trustee Board) so there were 8 of us giving a GP viewpoint throughout (minutes of all meetings are provided to Council but I appreciate that you are not yet on Council - looking forward to you joining in Nov), and all the concerns raised now have been deliberated previously and I hope that subsequent communications have allayed fears and provided all information necessary... Happy to discuss in person in due course.

** Update **

 Response from Dr Maureen Baker (Chair of RCGP Council) on 11 July 2014

Further to Helen Stokes-Lampard’s email of 30 June , we promised to get back to you once the College’s Leadership Team had discussed your concerns over the decision to partner with Clarity Informatics in developing a new Revalidation ePortfolio (ReP).

The meeting took place this morning, please be assured that all the issues outlined by you and other colleagues in your letter and petition were given considerable time and attention.

We know you are particularly concerned that members were not consulted over this. Unfortunately, we are unable to consult our members on every issue but endeavour to act in the best interests of the RCGP membership at all times.
In line with College governance procedures, the Trustee Board was tasked with the responsibility of determining the future of the ReP. The decision – ratified by Council – followed due diligence and was taken in good faith to pre-empt significant challenges for our members, had we continued with the current resource.
The Trustee Board has been running now for over two years following a successful pilot. It was set up directly in response to concerns from Council that time was being taken up with the ‘business’ aspects of the College when it is Council’s role to set the strategic direction and policy priorities of the College.
This arrangement is working well and it enables Council to concentrate on the core functions of the College – supporting our members and improving patient care.
When we consult with our membership, it will always be on important issues affecting general practice and patients rather than on the governance, business and financial aspects of running the College. In the past year, we have run two UK-wide membership consultations - one to set our next round of policy priorities and the other on our stance regarding assisted dying.
As we have said previously, the decision to go into partnership with an external company was a very difficult one which took the Trustee Board over 18 months of deliberations. It is certainly not something that we rushed into or entered into lightly.
Despite our best efforts over the past three years, trying to constantly maintain and develop the revalidation tool in-house was becoming increasingly problematic. It was becoming more costly to run, even without the necessary improvements, and it would have become unsustainable in a very short time.
The new system will drastically reduce costs whilst enabling us to provide members with a long-term and continuously improving system.
Whilst we fully appreciate your reaction to our decision - and your disappointment that a cost will eventually be attached to a previously free membership benefit - we spent a great deal of time and effort negotiating the best deal possible and strongly believe that this will be financially advantageous for the majority of our members in the long-term.
To address the specific points in your letter about the process of transferring to Clarity, we have gone to great lengths to minimise any administrative burden on members as a result of the switchover.
Current users of the ReP will have their information transferred automatically and securely to the new system. Links and log-on facilities will be provided within the existing RCGP website and all data from ReP will be securely mapped to the relevant fields.
Work already uploaded to the RCGP Revalidation ePortfolio will be carried over to the enhanced new unified system and no work or data will be lost. Neither Clarity nor the RCGP can use the data for other purposes without permission.
Clarity has a proven track record in providing IT solutions for appraisal, and the new enhanced portfolio will incorporate the best features of our respective systems, as well as being interoperable with the RCGP’s Online Learning Environment and trainee ePortfolio.
We hope that this has addressed all your concerns and helped to reassure you.
We also hope that you will find the new system reliable, easy to use, and supportive to your needs in preparing for revalidation.
We very much value the time and effort you have all invested in providing your feedback and will use this to inform the way we handle future decisions.
As College Chair, I operate an ‘open door’ policy and hope that you will take the opportunity to use this as a way of raising any issues or concerns you may have in future.
Thank you and best wishes.

My reply 20 July 2014

Dear Maureen,

Thank you for responding to our concerns about charging RCGP members for access to the Revalidation ePortfolio. I have shared your response on my blog and with the Facebook groups which the majority of the signatories belong to.

I am particularly heartened to hear of the integration between the new Revalidation ePortfolio, the current RCGP ePortfolio and the RCGP website now and in the future. It is a credit to the Trustees that they have put together such a well thought through proposal.

However, we do still have concerns about the process that led to this decisions:

  1. No-one can disagree with reducing costs and improving service for members. As a result of this decision, could you please let us know when and by how much membership fees will reduce?
  2. We are still firmly of the belief that it would have been better for members to have been consulted early in the process of looking for a sustainable means of providing a Revalidation ePortfolio system for members. It is therefore of significant concern if the Trustee Board have authority to make such decisions unilaterally. Perhaps the terms of reference of the Trustee Board need to be revised to improve transparency and accountability and the perception that they faithfully represent the interests of members.
  3. I was pleased to learn from Helen's email, Nigel's post-Council letter and your letter to me that the Trustee Board did decide to gain ratification of this decision by Council. Could you please advise how many Council members voted in favour of this proposal? Were any other options presented to Council?
  4. Trainees are understandably now nervous about the future of their ePortfolio. Can you please advise how long the trainee ePortfolio will continue to be maintained by College? If arrangements for the trainee ePortfolio are revised, can you please provide some reassurance about how trainees and members will be consulted during that process?

Many thanks again for taking our concerns on board.

Best wishes,

Response from Dr Maureen Baker 6 August 2014

Dear John,

Thank you for such an encouraging and positive response to my last letter – and for making sure that its contents were circulated widely.

I am pleased that I have been able to allay a lot of your concerns about the College’s partnership with Clarity Informatics regarding the future of the Revalidation e-Portfolio. I will now attempt to respond to the queries raised in your latest e-mail in the same order in which you raised them.

While the move to Clarity is in part driven by the need to reduce costs, this will not result in a reduction in membership fees as we will not realise any financial benefit from the transfer during this current financial year. This was never about ‘quick wins’, but long term wisdom. In negotiating a deal that provides College members with free access for four years, followed by a substantial discount, we feel that we have acted in the best interests of our membership and secured a package that will offer most benefit to the majority of members. The money saved in the long run from this initiative will go towards supporting and promoting our charitable objectives, including the Put patients first: Back general practice campaign, as well as wider membership benefits.

I take your point that you would have liked to see wider consultation on this issue, but the remit and terms of reference for the Trustee Board are very clear. As this issue relates to the business of the College, rather than policy or clinical care, it was entirely appropriate for the decision to be taken by Trustee Board in line with due diligence and corporate governance procedures. The Trustee Board does not have to request Council ratification of their decisions but chose to on this occasion.

I attach the draft minute from June Council for your information. However, as the minutes will not be approved until our next meeting of Council in September, I would ask you not to circulate this further. The Trustee Board operates under strict guidelines on transparency and accountability and I would be more than happy for you to observe one of its meetings if you so wish, once you become a member of Council.

As you are aware there are a number of appraisal tools available on the market but we opted to go with Clarity for several reasons, including the company’s proven track record in this area; the fact that a great percentage of our members are already using the Clarity package, and because they could guarantee interoperability with other College systems – something which you welcome in your letter. We have also emphasised to members that they have the right to opt out of the Clarity arrangement and that we will respect their decision.

Finally, you raise the issue of the Trainee ePortfolio. Please rest assured that this is entirely independent of the ReP and there are no plans to change its ownership. The Trainee ePortfolio is directly linked to obtaining MRCGP and any changes affecting trainees are discussed and tested first with the RCGP Associates in Training committee, a very vocal and dynamic body which is involved in all areas of the College, including representation at Council with full voting rights.

I hope this clarifies all your outstanding issues.

We will shortly be sending out further communication to all members regarding the secure transfer of their data to the new enhanced system. A comprehensive FAQ will also be posted on the website for reference.

Thank you again taking such a close interest and for raising these issues with me.

Best wishes