Trainee medics could be offered financial incentives to settle down and work as GPs in ‘under-doctored’ parts of England, Jeremy Hunt will announce, as part of a “new deal” for family doctors.
Hospitals will be “overwhelmed” if people do not have access to care and medical advice closer to home, the Health Secretary will warn.
As part of plans to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020, the Government and NHS England will focus efforts on areas that have struggled to recruit new GPs. In the East Midlands and North East England, nearly one in three GP training posts went unfilled last year, compared to a near 100 per cent fill-rate in London.
The NHS has expanded the number of training places available this year, but there are fears that fill-rates could be even lower than last year.
In order to entice young doctors into working into less popular areas, the Government, NHS England and Health Education England will look at offering “targeted financial incentives”.
It follows a scheme used by the NHS in Leicester, where new GPs were offered £20,000 ‘golden hellos’ after local officials became concerned about low recruitment and high numbers of GPs retiring. However, it is not clear what form new financial incentives in other parts of the country may take.
Mr Hunt will say that with an ageing population and more people living for longer with chronic health conditions, the NHS now needs “effective, strong and expanding general practice” more than at any time in its history.
He will pledge 10,000 new staff for surgeries. As well as the 5,000 new GPs, this will include practice nurses, district nurses, pharmacists, and physician associates – health professionals trained for two years to perform some of the duties of a doctor, such as taking case histories and performing examinations.
Medical trainees who choose to become GPs will also be offered an extra year’s specialist training in a relevant area – such as paediatrics or mental health – to create a new kind of semi-specialist GP.
To fuel the recruitment drive, a national marketing campaign backed by the Government and led by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the British Medical Association (BMA), urging young doctors to join the profession – often seen as highly demanding and unglamorous – highlighting that it will become the biggest growth area in the NHS.
The plans only apply to England, but difficulties recruiting new GPs and retaining the existing workforce are a concern throughout the UK. A recent BMA survey of UK GPs revealed that one in three is considering retiring in the next five years. The BMA has said Scotland is facing its own recruitment “crisis” with one in five practices working with at least one vacant GP post.
Mr Hunt will urge GPs to back the ‘new deal’, which he said would improve services for patients and “put the inspiration and magic back into general practice”.
However, he will also challenge family doctors to embrace the Government’s plan for surgeries to open seven days a week, which has proved deeply unpopular with the profession.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said the doctors’ union stood “ready to work with the government to move beyond fine rhetoric and bring forward practical solutions”.
However, Dr Nagpaul, who recently described the Government’s seven-day access plans as a “surreal obsession”, added that using new investment to fund evening and weekend opening may be the wrong use of limited resources.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, praised Mr Hunt for “acknowledging the value of general practice” and not following the pattern of previous governments who, she said, had used GPs as a “whipping post”.
The new deal is backed by £1bn of funding, announced before the election, earmarked for GPs to expand and improve their practices over the next four years.
Job centres: Trainee doctors
A GP’s workload is, in part, dependent on the number of patients they have on their list. This varies hugely from area to area. A study last year by GP magazine revealed in some regions the number of patients per full-time GP was more than 2,000 and in others about 1,000.
This variation can be due to local issues but some areas also have difficulty recruiting because many trainee doctors want to work in London or settle down in the South-east. The North-east and East Midlands have the most vacancies.
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