Trainee GPs have been misled and left thousands of pounds out of pocket after confusion over a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ incentive to train in certain regions, Pulse has learnt.
It is understood that a number of trainees in different regions of England were promised the one-off payment to enrol in hard-to-recruit locations, but were later told they were no longer eligible.
The BMA has received ‘a number’ of complaints from trainees and has been in discussions with HEE about its Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme (TERS).
Pulse has been contacted by one GP who said the scheme was ‘mis-sold’ to them and that they have been left struggling to support their family as a result.
HEE has said it has now altered the information on its online recruitment portal ‘so that trainees know exactly which post they are applying for when the recruitment round opens’.
The TERS was launched in 2016 and offers trainees a £20,000 taxable payment to train in parts of the country experiencing recruitment problems.
Dr Zoe Greaves, BMA GP trainees subcommittee co-chair, described the problems with TERS as ‘clearly unfair’.
She said: ‘We’ve been made aware of a number of cases in which trainees applied for positions at hard-to-recruit areas in good faith. The understanding was they would benefit from the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme, only to later find that this was not the case.’
She added: ‘This was because in previous years it was not clear that places were limited, and trainees reasonably assumed that by applying for a specific area they would be offered a TERS place.
’This led to a clearly unfair situation in which some applicants were offered a TERS place while others missed out.’
Dr Greaves said: ‘In some cases, trainees will have made major life decisions based on an offer, and a situation like this will have impacted them greatly.
An HEE spokesperson said: ‘We were made aware of this at a local level. It was discussed by our GP deans and the national team who are supporting the local teams in their discussions with the trainees. Recruitment for TERS 2019/2020 has already opened for trainees.’
The spokesperson added: ‘Working with the BMA, we have now identified TERS posts as a separate preference on Oriel [online recruitment portal] so that trainees know exactly which post they are applying for when the recruitment round opens.
‘We are continuing to provide support for trainees who feel they have been affected by this.’
NHS England released new figures yesterday showing the latest round of TERS was fully subscribed, with 265 trainee GPs signed up – almost double the number in the previous year.
It means the total number supported since the scheme began is 520 trainees in 23 regions, NHS England said.
The new figures were released shortly after a BBC report showed a wide disparity in GP numbers across the country.
Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s acting director of primary care, said: ‘The TERS scheme is going from strength to strength and is having a hugely positive impact on parts of the country were we have traditionally struggled to recruit trainee family doctors.’
How confusion over the scheme caused financial woes
A GP trainee affected by the problems with TERS told Pulse the scheme was ‘missold’ to applicants.
The trainee, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they were left struggling to support their family after not getting the £11,000 (after tax) they were expecting.
They claim they chose their training destination after checking the HEE website for areas included in TERS. The trainee said they then contacted a couple of training locations to check eligibility criteria.
According to the trainee, one region came back saying the scheme was only available to 15% of applicants. But the training director at the other location replied: ‘All of the rotations from our patch do apply [to] the scheme as far as I know.’
The trainee said they also emailed the HEE’s North West deanery but never received a response. On the basis of the programme director’s email they applied to the course, were accepted, and began in August 2018.
Two weeks after the course began, the trainee received an email from HEE North West. The email, seen by Pulse, explained there had been ‘some confusion over the TERS payment processes this year’ and apologised ‘if things haven’t been made clear’.
It said only a small minority of trainees on the course would be receiving payments. Despite the trainee spending several weeks contacting more senior officials at HEE North West, and receiving advice from the BMA, they said were unable to get any money.
The trainee has a family, had recently bought a house and suddenly found themselves without the money they had planned on receiving. ‘It was a big shock when they said no, because I was expecting to get this money,’ said the trainee.
They said they ended up having to use their holiday and weekends to work as a locum to pay off the debt.