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Flexible careers blow

The Government has all but killed off the flexible careers scheme for GPs after revealing it will stop funding from April

By Rob Finch

A letter from the Department of Health last week told strategic health authorities they will take over responsibility for the programme.

The letter from the department's head of workforce capacity, Debbie Mellor, stated that it would pay £7 million towards this year's scheme.

But she admitted that the allocation, finally made after concerted pressure from GPs, was 'not sufficient to meet the full cost'.

Uncertainty over funding forced deaneries to stop support for all new flexible careers posts last autumn, with some even ending support for GPs already on the scheme.

The department denied it intended to scrap the scheme after reports of cuts in places emerged, saying last month it would be writing to strategic health authorities 'to finalise details, including the level of central funding'.

Now, with cash-strapped NHS trusts and deaneries unable to fund posts, practices will have to cover the entire cost themselves if they want to take on a flexible careers GP.

Professor Pat Lane, director of postgraduate GP education for South Yorkshire and South Humber deanery, said the withdrawal of central funding would 'kill the scheme'.

He said: 'We're not taking any more GPs on. We can't take money away from doctors in training. If they want to do it someone will have to pay for it and that's probably the practices.'

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC negotiator with responsibility for career development, said it was unfair of the Government to expect PCTs to find extra resources to fund the scheme. He said: 'At the same time as the White Paper and its laudable aims have come out, they are withdrawing useful schemes that can help deliver it.'

Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chief executive of the National Association of Sessional GPs, condemned the move as 'spectacular shortsightedness'.

He said 'In terms of retention it's a complete smack in the face. They need to reassure those currently in the scheme that they can continue in their posts.

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