DH to expand £20,000 GP golden hello scheme

A scheme offering £20,000 golden hellos to GP trainees in areas that struggle to recruit will be widened as part of a package of measures to address the GP workforce crisis, the health secretary told the RCGP annual conference on Thursday.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt at the RCGP annual conference (Photo: JH Lancy)

The golden hello scheme - called the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme - currently offers payments to trainees in 20 areas across England that have been identified as hard to recruit to for the past three years.

In 2016, 109 GP trainees received the £20,000 salary supplement, but the government now plans to extend this scheme to 200 GP trainees from 2018.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the RCGP annual conference in Liverpool on Thursday that from 2018 more surgeries in hard to recruit areas will benefit from the scheme.

Despite welcoming the focus on recruitment problems in rural areas, the GPC warned that the government was likely to miss its overall target of increasing the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020/21. The RCGP said it hoped early positive results from the golden hello scheme could be replicated as it widened.

GP indemnity

The health secretary's announcement came alongside proposals to tackle the rising cost of GP indemnity by developing a state-backed indemnity scheme.

The DH has also ordered Health Education England to ensure that areas that struggle to recruit - including rural and coastal parts of the country - benefit from a higher share of the additional medical school places being rolled out from next year.

Medical school places are being increased by 1,500 - a 25% rise - by 2020 in what the government has called the 'biggest ever expansion of the medical workforce in England'. The DH said earlier this year that 500 of these places would become available from 2018.

Mr Hunt set out these plans as part of a 'renewed focus on recruitment and retention across general practice'. The government has pledged to introduce flexible working arrangements intended to retain GPs considering retirement, and will consult on the regulation of physician associates in a bid to clarify their roles and how they can bolster the primary care workforce.

A new international recruitment office will be set up by NHS England to help local areas recruit overseas GPs and fast-track doctors from countries such as Australia into the UK workforce.

GP funding

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'We have an incredibly serious shortage of GPs right across the country, but there are some areas that struggle to recruit more than others and often they are in remote and rural areas, so this commitment to incentivise working in these areas is welcome.

'When the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme was launched initially, it had very positive results, so we hope this success will be replicated with this extension.

'Ultimately we need NHS England's GP Forward View, which promises £2.4bn extra for general practice and year and 5,000 more GPs by 2020, urgently and in full so that we can deliver the care our patients need and deserve wherever in the country they live.'

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'General practice is facing unprecedented pressure from rising workload, stagnating budgets and a workforce crisis that has left many parts of the country without enough GPs to treat patients. These proposals do appear to acknowledge the specific problems facing rural areas in England.'

However, he warned: 'Golden hellos are not a new idea and unlikely to solve the overall workforce crisis given we are failing badly to train enough GPs to meet current demands. There is already an incentive programme for "hard to recruit areas" that has been operating since 2016 and it is not clear whether this new announcement, which comes without any real details, is any different from that scheme.

'There are also many other areas of the country, including urban areas, that are also suffering from GP shortages. A recent BMA survey found that one in three practices nationwide had vacancies that they were unable to fill after 12 months.

'The government is not on course to reach its target of 5,000 extra GPs by 2020. We need the government to commit to a long-term plan that gives general practice the resources it needs to deliver the service patients deserve.'

Health Education England director Professor Wendy Reid said: 'Since its establishment in 2013, Health Education England has honoured its commitment to invest more in GP training by increasing the number of training posts available. We spend nearly £500m a year on GP training. We are working closely with NHS England to provide 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020. More doctors  than ever before are entering general practice and this is illustrated by the GP training fill rate figures for 2016  which at  3,019 is the highest number ever.'

Full coverage of the RCGP annual conference 2017

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