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Armed forces try to tempt GPs with £50,000 bonus

GPs are being offered £50,000 'golden hellos' to join the armed forces as Britain prepares for war against Iraq.

The financial inducement paid to doctors joining as medical officers dwarfs the £12,000 incentive payment available to GPs who join the NHS.

GPs warned that the substantial bonus, coupled with the high salaries paid to military medical officers, would exacerbate the already dire GP recruitment crisis.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said GPs who signed a five-year contract to serve as a medical officer in the RAF, Army or Navy could earn up to £94,000 a year ­ compared with an NHS GP's intended average net income of £61,816.

The armed forces have launched the recruitment campaign to tackle critical shortages of GPs, dentists and surgeons. As Britain gets on a war footing, fewer than half of the 872 posts for doctors in the forces have been filled.

Total medical personnel numbers are 6,500 ­ 23 per cent short of the operational

requirement of 8,400.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said he expected the recruitment campaign would attract 'significant numbers of doctors' and this would have grave consequences for the NHS.

'I can't blame the armed forces. The Army has worked out that if you can't recruit people you pay them more,' said Dr Buckman.

'It's so absolutely common sense I would not expect it to apply to the way a health service is run,' he added.

Dr Jeff Featherstone, a GP in Liverpool where practices struggle to recruit partners, said: 'Some GPs will be lured into it by the prospect of paying off their mortgage. We need that like a hole in the head.'

Dr Featherstone added that if the Ministry of Defence campaign worked it would give the GPC ammunition to fight for enhanced 'golden hellos' for GPs joining the NHS.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the NHS tended to benefit when doctors returned to the health service for the rest of their career after a spell in the forces.

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