GPs returning from a period away from UK general practice will be given bursaries of £2,300 a month to work in supervised practices while waiting to be put on the performers list.
NHS England’s new national GP returner scheme, launched today, will also give practices a grant of £8,000 a year pro rata for taking the GPs – the same as training practices are given.
The programme is intended to replace the current regional variation in schemes, which sees some returners being paid nothing or token amounts of £50 a week while going through the process of returning to the performers list.
As part of the scheme, which was trailed by Pulse, NHS England will also simplify the process of returning to the performers list by creating a single contact point.
The scheme, worked up with Health Education England (HEE), the RCGP and the BMA, is the first of NHS England’s ten strategies aimed at increasing GP numbers to be implemented.
As it currently stands, there is huge variation across the country in the process that GPs wishing to return to the performers’ list have to go through, involving the local education and training board and the NHS England area team.
However, under the new scheme, NHS England said the GP National Recruitment Office would offer a ‘single point of contact’ to GPs joining or rejoining the service.
The programme will be available to GPs who have taken time out, for example to practise abroad or to raise a family, but who have previously been on the GMC register and on the NHS England National Performers List (NPL), as well as GPs qualified overseas with no NHS experience.
Unlike the present situation, GP will also be able to apply from overseas before they either return or come to the UK.
The scheme will offer a bursary of £2,300 per month and participants will be given a supervised placement in general practice, NHS England said.
A joint statement by NHS England, HEE, the BMA and the RCGP said: ‘The new scheme will standardise pre-existing schemes providing a consistent single point of contact, via the GP National Recruitment Office, to guide doctors through the system. Doctors will also be able to apply from overseas, before they either return or come to the UK.
‘The scheme will offer a bursary of £2,300 per month and participants will be given a supervised placement in general practice. The placements will be tailored to the needs of doctors to ensure they have the confidence and knowledge needed to be a GP.’
The national returners programme, first recommended in the GP taskforce report, comes after the RCGP warned last year that more than 5,000 doctors who have emigrated or chosen to take early retirement are unable to return to the GP workforce as a result of ‘red tape’.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said the announcement was ‘encouraging’ after the college’s fight against red tape.
She said: ‘It costs nearly £250,000 to train a GP so it is an absolute travesty for patients and a huge waste of public money if we then lose them to the profession as a result of red tape and outdated regulations.
‘We are confident that if people know that the process is to be simplified and streamlined across the country, there will be many more trained GPs who would consider returning to frontline patient care in the UK, helping to ease the intense workforce and workload pressures currently facing general practice.’
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul told Pulse: ‘The practice would get the equivalent of a trainer’s grant, which is just over £8,000 annually, pro rata for how long you have the returner for.
‘What I want to be clear on is that we certainly would have liked a higher level of funding, however compared to the current system this does represent a significant improvement.’
He added: ‘The announcement of a new, properly funded induction and refresher scheme is a positive step forward that will be good news for doctors who are seeking a route back into full-time or part-time work as a GP.’
HEE medical director and director of education and quality, Professor Wendy Reid, said: ‘This programme removes some of the barriers seen before for doctors who have had a career break or worked overseas to be supported to return to work in general practice. The scheme aims to bridge the gap between the skills and experience that doctors have had, and those that are required for safe and effective primary care practice in the NHS in England.
‘It also recognises the different learning needs of those returning from work overseas over those from a career break, and those who are seeking orientation and adjustment to English primary care.’
NHS England’s overall GP workforce strategy also includes measures such as incentivising older GPs to stay on working, offering financial incentives to new GPs for working in under-doctored areas and a marketing campaign to medical students.