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RCGP ‘unjustifiable’ plan to increase trainee membership fees provokes clash with BMA

GP trainees will have to pay more in RCGP membership fees in a bid to cut exam fees for those failing their MRCGP exams, the college has announced today.

It said that the membership fee for trainees will increase by £595 from August, but this will be offset by a reduction in the examination fees by £409.

This will benefit trainees who failed at their first attempt and will ‘ensure greater fairness’, the college said.

However, the BMA has come out strongly against the move, arguing that the rise is ‘unjustifiable’ and that there was no ‘meaningful consultation’ with the BMA.

The college has faced criticism from the BMA among others for the high exam fees, with the cost of one sitting of the CSA exam costing £1,737.

This was raised as an issue by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin in its judicial review against the college’s clinical skills assessment, arguing that this cost affected international graduates more because of their lower pass rates.

The RCGP told Pulse last year that it was considering lowering the cost of exams.

As a result of the changes, trainees who pass first time will pay slightly more than before, but the college has said his can be ‘offset by the substantial tax advantages negotiated by the college, whereby all tax paid on examination fees can now be reclaimed from HMRC via normal tax returns’.

But Dr Donna Tooth, GP trainee sub-committee chair, said the BMA was ‘extremely concerned’ with the changes, ‘as they represent another unjustifiable fee rise that trainees will have to bear and there is questionable evidence to suggest they are necessary’.

She added: We are particularly concerned that these rises are setting a precedent for ongoing increases for future cohorts of GPs at time when we are supposed to be engaged in a government backed recruitment campaign to attract more junior doctors into general practice.’

Dr Tooth said the BMA had ‘repeatedly attempted to get an explanation from the RCGP about how these changes are calculated’, adding: ‘It is disappointing that there was no meaningful consultation with trainees and the BMA, as our comments were requested only once the decision had been made.’

She added: ‘We will be asking the RCGP to explain this decision and ensure that the fee process is more transparent, so that trainees know what their fees are being spent on.’

RCGP honorary treasurer Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Fairness to all our trainees is the driving force for these changes and all trainees can be confident that they are being treated fairly and transparently.

 ‘Trainees who are less than full time will be eligible for a much simpler and, for the vast majority, cheaper package of fees, while trainees who find it harder to get through their training and need to sit the exam more than once in future will be paying significantly less overall.

 She added that the college ‘appreciate that those who pass first time will pay a little more’.

Dr Toby Holland, chair of the associates in training committee, said: ‘Membership and exam fees are critical for us as they are a significant financial burden for the majority of GP trainees so the committee will continue to do all it can to make sure they are as fair, balanced and proportionate as possible.’