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CAMHS won't see you now

Is it worth joining the army for £50,000 golden hello?

Q The armed forces are currently offering a £50,000 golden hello to NHS GPs who commit for five years. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a forces doctor?

Service life can be very varied, challenging and stimulating. During my time in the army I served in Northern Ireland, the 1991 Gulf War, Bosnia, Poland, Canada, Germany and the UK. The camaraderie, opportunities for sport and the social life of the

Officers' Mess were all significantly better than I now enjoy as a 'civvie'. But the thing I miss most is the privilege of serving with British soldiers, a much-maligned group of people whose ingenuity, resilience and good humour in adversity are an example to us all.

If service life is so idyllic why did I (and many others) leave? First, one must appreciate that the Defence Medical Services is an organisation in crisis. Years of decline and underinvestment have left it hopelessly undermanned. The net result is that long operational tours and exercises are spread between a dwindling number of doctors in uniform.

When young and single this varied and exciting life can be hugely rewarding. When spouses and children start to enter the equation the prospect of spending at least six months of every year away from home (and potentially being shot at) starts to lose its appeal very rapidly.

Recent changes in pay have eased the financial discrepancies between service and civilian practice but the £50,000 'golden hello' gimmick only equates to £6,000 a year after tax for the commitment required. Little wonder that it has had such unimpressive results in attracting recruits. I am afraid to say that until service pay scales realistically reflect the turbulence of modern service life compared with that of us 'soft civvies' the crisis will inevitably continue.

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