NHS England to offer incentives for doctors to become GPs

Newly qualified doctors are to be incentivised to become GPs as part of a £10m plan to kick start expansion in the general practice workforce.

The scheme is part of a new package of measures designed to boost the number of GPs joining the profession, deter early retirement and encourage those who have taken a career break, for example to work abroad or have children, to rejoin the workforce.

NHS England, working in collaboration with Health Education England (HEE), the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) and the BMA, has developed a 10 point GP workforce action plan to increase the number of doctors working in general practice.

Dr Mike Bewick, deputy medical director at NHS England, said: “Primary care is the bedrock of the NHS and the Five Year Forward View makes clear that it will continue to play an even greater role in the future. We need greater investment in GP services, extending to community nursing, pharmacy and eye care service and this £10m will kick start a range of initiatives to drive that forward so every community has GP services that best meets its health needs.”

This will be supported by a national marketing campaign aimed at graduate doctors to highlight the opportunities and benefits of a career in general practice. Modelled on the successful “teach first” drive to increase teacher numbers, it will see all newly qualified doctors receive a letter setting out the positive aspects of life as a GP. The Royal College of GPs have also produced a video that will be used as part of the campaign (below).

To help incentivise newly trained doctors to work in areas that have struggle to recruit they will be offered an extra year of training, as well as unspecified “additional financial support”.

The extra training could be in a related clinical specialty of interest, such as paediatrics, psychiatry, dermatology, emergency medicine and public health, or it can be used to acquire business skills and undertake an MBA or an academic programme.

Alongside this pilot training hubs based in GP practices will be established in areas with the greatest workforce needs to encourage doctors to train as GPs in these areas. They will also enable nurses and other primary care staff to gain new skills.

Experienced GPs who are considering retiring early will also be offered incentives to continue working, including mentoring and help with qualifications, such as an MBA.

Funding will be provided for a new scheme to encourage GPs with young families who may be considering a career break, to retain a part-time working commitment. It will support GP practices to offer GPs the opportunity to work with a modified workload and support and will be piloted in areas which have found it more difficult to recruit. There will also be a wider review of existing ‘retainee’ schemes.

Additionally a new ‘returner’ scheme will fund induction and support packages for GPs returning from a career break or working abroad to ensure they are ready to return to practice. There will also be targeted investment to support GPs to return to work in areas of greatest need around the country.

The £10m for the initiatives is part of the extra £1bn the government made available to improve general practice from fines levied on banks for their part in the Libor scandal, although most of that money is to upgrade GP surgery buildings and equipment.

“This action plan is good news for general practice and good news for patients,” said Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP. “By tackling the three Rs - recruitment, retention and 'returners' - this action plan gives us a real chance to build up the size of our GP workforce that our nation needs. General practice has been under great stress for the last decade, which has meant that family doctors have not been able to deliver the level of service to their patients that they have wanted.

“By rolling out the action plan, we are laying the foundations for a fully reinvigorated and restored general practice, which can deliver excellent patient care in the community and take substantial pressure off our hospitals. We hope that this will be the start of more sustained investment for general practice that will help us reduce waiting times for GP appointments, provide more flexible opening hours and provide more services for patients closer to home.”

The plan is part of the NHS Five Year Forward View and the New Deal for primary care, which set out a specific commitment to tackle workforce issues.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This ambitious plan helps set a clear direction for the future of general practice and I hope it will encourage even more young, aspiring medical students to take up careers as GPs.”

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