With continued talk of a seven-day service amid funding cuts, reforms and rising workloads, the number of GPs who find themselves struggling under the pressures of general practice is greater than ever.
Sometimes this can lead to illness and breakdowns, resulting in financial crisis for some doctors and their families.
It may never cross your mind that something may happen to you that might mean you are no longer able to practise in the way you had intended. However, if such a situation does arise, there is support out there from the Cameron Fund, which was set up to help GPs and their families.
What is the Cameron Fund?
The Cameron Fund – the only medical benevolent charity that supports solely GPs and their dependents – was established at the 1970 conference of LMCs and is named after Sir James Cameron, who was responsible for negotiating the GP contract 50 years ago.
The fund is a registered charity whose objectives are the relief of poverty and the prevention of hardship and distress of GPs and their dependents, along with supporting the education and advancement in life of the children and dependents of qualifying practitioners.
In 2015, the fund authorised grants and loans to the total value of £322,201 to 196 beneficiaries.
I’ve been a trustee for about 10 years, and in that time we’ve been able to help many GPs and their dependents in real financial need, often through no fault of their own.
The fund was originally established with a sizeable endowment and careful investment ensures that approximately half of the fund’s income each year arises from this. The balance is generated from LMCs as well as donations and bequests from individual GPs.
Who does the fund help?
Recipients of help from the fund have changed a lot over the last four decades. Recently support has been provided to mainly working doctors whose careers have been interrupted by illness, accident or mental health problems.
There has been a sharp rise in individual situations that have been made more complex by the outcomes of partnership disputes, local performance procedures or conditions imposed by the GMC.
Often these barriers can make it all but impossible for a doctor to continue to practise, leading to prolonged periods out of work and making a subsequent return even more challenging.
The fund values its close links with the BMA, and even shares its location in London, but is entirely independent and welcomes applications from all GPs, whether BMA members or not.
The Cameron Fund is administered by a chief executive and a cases officer with oversight being provided by a council of trustees, all of whom are experienced GPs, elected on a regional basis to form a network that covers the whole of the UK.
How does the fund help?
For eligible applicants the fund may provide one or more of the following types of assistance:
- money advice to help applicants ensure they are maximising their income, renegotiating debts, reducing discretionary expenditure and accessing all available state benefits;
- regular contributions towards living expenses;
- grants to help meet essentials payments, such as minor property repairs;
- help with remedial expenses, professional subscriptions and some assistance with the cost of maintaining professional skills whilst the applicant is not working;
- loans to help with living expenses during periods of remedial training, the debt underwritten by a third party guarantor;
- secured loans to help with major essential expenditure.
If the beneficiary is unable to return to clinical practice, the fund may meet the cost of career coaching to enable the individual to transfer to an alternative career.
We work closely with independent money advice organisation AdviceWorks. Applicants are put in touch with a qualified money adviser, the cost being met by the fund, who works with them to produce a report with recommendations to improve their financial situation.
A visit from a trustee, who is a GP, can provide added support and help assess the beneficiary’s situation and signpost additional support and resources.
It is easy to become an individual member of the Cameron Fund Ltd, and, while it is not a requirement, many members make a financial contribution. Being a member ensures that you hear about the on-going work of the fund.
Many GPs remain unaware of the fund’s existence, or the services it provides. They may be in difficulty and would benefit from our experience of providing assistance at times when it is needed most.
We are keen to spread the word would encourage those who may become aware of GP colleagues in difficulty to signpost them to The Cameron Fund.
If you want to find out more, apply to the fund or give a donation, please visit www.cameronfund.org.uk email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7388 0796.
- Dr Stephen Linton is chairman of the Cameron Fund