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NHS England launches GP retention pilot to allow over-55s to work ‘more flexibly’

NHS England is set to launch a GP retention pilot for over-55s thinking of leaving the profession, offering them flexible working models.

This could include providing cover for other practices, taking on certain expert roles or becoming trainers or mentors, for example.

NHS England, which announced plans to improve GP retention in the GP Forward View earlier this year, said the move comes as data showed that the number of GPs over 55 leaving the profession has risen over the last 10 years.

But it said ‘research that we have commissioned suggests that experienced GPs may remain practising if there was an opportunity to work more flexibly’.

Therefore, ‘NHS England will launch a GP Career Plus scheme pilot in 2017/18 to test a range of ways to offer such flexibility and support for experienced GPs at risk of leaving general practice’, it said.

The 12-month trial, which has been worked up with the RCGP, BMA and Health Education England, will look to recruit ‘up to 80 experienced GPs at risk of leaving the profession’ across 10 pilot areas.

NHS England said these GPs, aged between 55 and 59, could:

  • Provide clinical capacity for practices to cover: vacancies; annual leave; parental leave; and sick cover.
  • Carry out specific types of work e.g. long term conditions, access hub sessions, home visits.
  • Provide leadership through: clinical training, individual mentoring and coaching, innovation and change leadership, support for practices in crisis or in under-doctored areas.

NHS England willl evaluate the £1m scheme after six months, to ‘define a model to promote for further local use’.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, GPC lead on education, training and workforce, said the scheme ‘has the potential, if implemented properly, to help retain GPs who would otherwise leave the profession and enable practices to more easily obtain cover for absences and vacancies that emerge on a short term basis’.

But he added that the funding allocated to date would ‘not go very far’.

He said: ‘At a time of significant need, the funding for this project will clearly not go very far and so we hope this scheme can be quickly evaluated and, if found to be beneficial, additional funding found to ensure all practices and patients benefit in the long term.

‘There remain deep problems facing the GP workforce which is struggling to retain staff in an underfunded, overworked environment. The Government needs to take broader action to address this crisis, but we also need initiatives such as GP Career Plus which allows for a more responsive, flexible workforce.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the new scheme would ‘provide [GPs] with the flexibility they have been asking for to carry on working or help to train the next generation, all to contribute to our plan for a world class GP service’.

He added: ‘GPs have a wealth of experience and local knowledge, and we want to make it easier for those who choose to carry on working in a way that suits them, and benefits their local patients and colleagues.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘The opportunity for more options and flexibility for experienced GPs, particularly those who might be considering leaving the profession, so that our patients can continue to benefit from their expert skills – and newer GPs can continue to learn from them – is excellent.

‘We look forward to seeing how it works in practice and hopefully, if successful, it can be rolled out further.’

What did the GP Forward View promise on GP retention?

The Government’s general practice rescue package, released in April, set out a number of pledges on GP retention, including:

  • To increase the financial compensation available through the current GP retainer scheme from 1 May 2016;
  • introduce a new GP retainer scheme more fit for purpose from 1 April 2017;
  • offer targeted financial incentives to GPs from May 2016 for returning to work in areas of greatest need;
  • a new ‘Portfolio Route’ for GPs with previous UK experience, continuing to work in equivalent primary care roles outside the UK, removing the need for them to sit the current exams to return to practice.