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Returners' comebacks are blocked

By Ian Cameron

Hundreds of trained doctors who want to return to general practice are being denied the opportunity because the Government is refusing to fund the required training.

A BMA investigation has revealed funding for the GP Returner scheme has completely dried up in many areas, leaving doctors having to consider alternative careers.

Some GPs have also lost pension rights because they have been unable to return.

Ministers slashed funding for the Returner scheme to £7 million in 2005/6 and allocated no money for 2006/7.

Without retraining, doctors cannot be accepted on to the Performers' List.

Many of the doctors are women who have taken career breaks to raise children. The BMA said the policy was leaving the doctors feeling they were the victims of a form of sexual discrimination.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said he did not know any areas taking on new entrants to the GP Returner scheme.

He accused ministers of hypocrisy in appearing to be happy for PCTs to recruit doctors trained overseas – which raised other ethical considerations, particularly around new EU accession states.

He said: 'We have a government who say they are committed to primary care and who admit there are shortages of doctors, yet because of their policies we seem to be cutting off funding streams and cost-effective ways of increasing the medical workforce.'

Dr Vicky Weeks, chair of the BMA's sessional GPs subcommittee, said the NHS was being deprived of doctors who gained valuable experience during their career break and would remain committed to the NHS for the rest of their careers.

'It's an absolute disgrace,' she said. 'For a relatively small amount of money, particularly compared with the cost of training a GP, they bring a much wider perspective back in.'

Dr Anne Hastie, director of postgraduate general practice education at the London deanery, said 10 doctors had recently passed eligibility assessments but had been unable to progress due to lack of funding.

The Department of Health said its devolved approach to managing the Returner scheme allowed 'local flexibility' in recruiting. Strategic health authorities were also able to use funds from the £13 million Primary Care Development Scheme to attract health care professionals to under staffed areas, a spokesperson said.

GP homes in on a different career

Dr Julie Kendall is considering becoming an estate agent because she can't get on a course to allow her to return to practise as a GP.

She is on a waiting list to enter the GP Returner scheme but will be forced to consider an alternative career if she is not successful by Christmas.

Although she has not practised as a GP for 10 years, Dr Kendall only needs a year's refresher training to return.

Dr Kendall, who has provided clinical care to the elderly, raised a family and helped run her husband's business since she left general practice, said she was disappointed she could not put her training and experience to good use.

She originally approached her deanery to discuss returning to work two years ago.

She described the Returner scheme as a 'beacon' that would allow her to get her life 'back in order'. Now she says her beacon has been extinguished.

Dr Kendall said: 'It's scandalous that someone like me, with real enjoyment of working with the elderly, can't use it, and here we are with an ageing population.

'It's shortsighted. Politicians are being blind.'

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