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NHS England invests £10m in bid to keep new GPs from leaving profession

Exclusive Local areas will be helped to set up initiatives to retain GPs – including those who are recently qualified – who are thinking of leaving the profession, via a £10m fund announced by NHS England.

The fund will be divided into two parts, including a £7m ‘Local GP Retention Fund’ and a £3m fund to be split across seven areas of England that have struggled hardest to retain GPs.

The news comes after it was revealed that 1,000 full-time equivalent GPs have left the workforce since 2015, despite Government pledges to boost numbers by 5,000.

NHS England said the fund comes in response to ‘pressures facing general practice’ and ‘the need to support the valued doctors we have to continue working’.

Of the funding, £7m will be shared out among NHS England’s five regional teams, and will be used to support retention initiatives for:

  • GPs who are newly qualified or within their first five years of practice;
  • GPs who are seriously considering leaving general practice or are considering changing their role or working hours;
  • GPs who are no longer clinically practicing in the NHS in England but remain on the National Performers List.

Each region ‘will be required to submit a proposal for how they intend to spend their initial indicative allocation by the end of June’, according to NHS England guidance.

Local areas can expect to receive the funding by the end of July, and will be expected to launch schemes by the end of September.

In addition to this, a further £3m will be given to seven yet-to-be-named areas across the country that have struggled to retain GPs. NHS England said it would reveal further details next month.

Dr Raj Patel, deputy director of primary care for NHS England, said: ‘We are aware of the pressures currently facing GPs and, in particular, the need to support the valued doctors we have to continue working when they are faced with personal challenges which might make this difficult.

‘The Local GP Retention Fund will help to address this as part of several measures we have put in place to provide that much-needed support for GPs who are already working hard to provide great care for patients in their community.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘General practice is in a tough place right now, and it’s essential we look after the hard working GPs in our profession, including those just starting out in their careers.

‘Today’s measures are really welcome, and we appreciate the focus on supporting local initiatives and areas that are finding it particularly difficult to retain GPs in the profession.’

She added: ‘We hope these plans are just the start of more initiatives that tackle escalating GP workload, and that they are implemented with as little red tape as possible.

‘We also want to see more options and greater 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.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP Committee chair, said: ‘Local initiatives that aim to hold on to the valuable workforce that keeps high-quality, community-based generalised care running on a daily basis are vital for the future of general practice.

‘From newly-recruited trainees, to doctors with decades of experience behind them, the government and NHS England must prove they are committed to valuing each individual GP and take seriously the risks to the health service that short-staffed general practice poses and while limited schemes can help, the key to significant change will be a commitment to longstanding recurrent resources.

He added that while the new funding ‘is important’, NHS England ‘must ensure that it is not spread too thinly and commissioners must work closely with LMCs to maximise its impact. We will be monitoring carefully how successful each scheme proves to be’.

Stemming the GP exodus

Earlier this month it was revealed that 1,000 full-time equivalent GPs have left the workforce since 2015 – the year that the Government set out to boost GP numbers by 5,000 in five years.

There are also signs of growing health inequalities, with official data showing GP numbers are declining faster in areas of England where patients are on the lowest incomes.

The Government has launched a number initiatives to try to keep GPs in the workforce, including the £2.4bn GP Forward View rescue package announced in 2016.

This included the GP retention programme, which was supporting 254 GPs to stay on in the profession by the end of last year.

Earlier this year, a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ scheme for newly-qualified GPs opting to train in hard-to-recruit areas was expanded.

And NHS England is also aiming to bring over 2,000 GPs from overseas (although Pulse recently reported that just 85 were in post by April).