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Scheme to get GPs back into work

by Helen Crump

A national framework designed to help GPs who are excluded from practising get back to work has been launched by the National Clinical Assessment Centre (NCAS).

The framework, called Back on Track, aims to standardise retraining for doctors and dentists who have been suspended, excluded, have had a long career break or sickness absence or been through an NCAS assessment.

It lays down a plan for the training required, who should supervise and support the doctor, what objectives should be set and a potential timeframe.

Doctors entering the process are likely to have been referred by primary care organisations or the GMC, but clinicians can also self-refer or be referred by colleagues.

GPs who go through the Back on Track system will have to pay for the retraining. NCAS, which was set up in 2001 to offer an alternative to the GMC in cases where doctors' fitness to practise was in question, admitted this may force some to take out loans.

Rosemary Field, deputy director of NCAS, said it had realised its own assessment was not enough to help doctors get back to work.

Consensus from trusts and doctors was it would be reasonable to expect both to contribute to the cost of the programme, Ms Field added.

Locum GPs could benefit from PCT support in many cases, but otherwise they would have to fund their own programme.

Ms Field said: 'One idea is that people would need to take out a loan, which would be hard, but it is an approach that is taken in North America.'

Professor Alistair Scotland, director of NCAS, warned that doctors could fail the scheme.

'This is about a safe return to practice. It isn't about a relentless attempt to get someone back into practice,' he said.

'The worst situation is where someone is struggling to try and restore a career that they need to be helped out of.'

GP leaders welcomed the programme in principle, but questioned whether doctors who had been sick should pay.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said such a move would be 'quite wrong'.

He said: 'The same rules should apply to other people in the NHS and I'm not aware that nurses out for illness or other problems are expected to pay for their rehabilitation.'

He added: 'Rather than punishing doctors, we've got to try and support them.'

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