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NHS offers £12,000 for GP returners to work in struggling practices

NHS England is offering up to £12,000 in funding to incentivise GPs to work in practices that have been unable to fill vacancies for more than 12 months.

The scheme will be piloted this year and offers £8,000 to cover the GP’s relocation expenses as well as a £2,000 education bursary and up to £2,000 for the practice to buy locum cover while the new recruit attends education sessions.

The GP is required to stay with the practice for at least three years, and the scheme is only open to GPs who are willing to work at least four sessions a week and who have recently returned to UK general practice or are on a short-term break.

In order to qualify for the funding, practices must demonstrate they have been unable to fill vacancies for in excess of 12 months and that there is a risk to patient care. 

The pilot summary on the NHS England website states: ‘The GP must be prepared to relocate to work in a practice identified by NHS England as one which has historically struggled to recruit GPs. The practice must be in excess of one hour’s normal travel from their previous home/ work base (usually in excess of 50 miles).’

The pilot scheme offers:

  • Up to £8,000 in relocation allowances for GPs relocating to designated practices paid via their employing practice;
  • Up to £2,000 in an education bursary in the first 12 months for relocating GPs to be used on professional development;
  • Marketing assistance to support designated practices with recruitment, including the development of job descriptions and recruitment packs;
  • Up to £2,000 locum cover in the first 12 months for when the new GP is undertaking educational sessions. 

Relocation costs covered will include legal fees involved in buying and selling a house, moving expenses and rental costs, and it even covers costs for a child to attend boarding school.

For practices to qualify they must be able to show NHS England that ’despite frequent attempts they have been unable to recruit and have held vacant GP post(s) for a minimum of 12 months, and that this is causing a risk to the continuity of patient service’.

A risk matrix will be used by NHS England to determine which practices are sufficiently vulnerable to be involved in the pilot.

The scheme was one of the commitments in NHS England’s joint ten-point plan for GP workforce, and eligible GPs will be drawn from the plan’s other initiatives.

This includes the recently souped-up GP retainer scheme, which Pulse revealed would be offering up to £16,000 for practices and GPs intending to take a break but willing continue some clinical sessions.

It will also include the new national Induction and Refresher Scheme for GPs coming back after working overseas or a career break, and which Pulse has shown has returned as few as one in 100 GPs registered in its first six months.

Streamlining the process for GPs to return from abroad is key to Jeremy Hunt’s distant ambition to attract 5,000 more GPs but has been criticised for requiring returners to work under supervision for prolonged periods, and for not recruiting to the most under-doctored areas.

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP – who developed the ten-point plan alongside the BMA and workforce bosses – said: ’Making it easier for trained GPs to return to frontline patient care after a career break or period working abroad is a priority for the college, and this scheme that targets returning doctors to work in areas most in need makes a lot of sense.

’It’s important that adequate safeguards remain in order to ensure patient safety, and that every GP who wants to return to practise in the UK is treated equally, but we need to cut through any unnecessary red tape, and working with NHS England, I’m pleased that we are making strides in this area.’

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