Because medical knowledge is constantly advancing, all GPs are paid a grant of pounds 2,100 a year by the NHS, if they agree to go on courses to update their skills. Under an agreement with the Inland Revenue they can claim back most, if not all, of the cost of the courses against income tax. The Department of Health has recently tightened up the regulations, and to qualify for the grant courses now have to have been given Post Graduate Education Allowance approval by regional panels and a national panel of the General Medical Council and the Royal College of General Practitioners. Areas where GPs are likely to update their knowledge include advances in minor surgery, paediatrics and management of practices.
Dr Michael Ellis, a partner of Dr Christopher Ackner, who survived the accident, said the visit to Val d'Isere was an approved postgraduate course. Doctors had found they learned more when they combined education with recreation, he said. 'One goes on a leisure trip, then spends the evening doing work. There will be . . . speakers giving lectures, then small discussions.'
Doctors have no obligation to update their skills, but the allowance is sufficiently generous that 90 per cent of GPs do claim it. Many attend cheaper residential study courses with no leisure element.
Doctors are also frequently invited to attend free, or tax-deductible conferences organised by drug companies, often at a ski or a beach resort to attract a large turn-out.