In September 2005 the DoH reduced funding for GP returner schemes to £7 million for 2005/06 and have allocated no money at all in 2006/07. Many schemes have now ceased to operate as a result.
GPC chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said that the only option for many GPs wishing to return from a career break was to fund their own retraining.
‘We know that particularly in the South West and London, fully funded schemes have vanished, and in many other regions only a handful of places are available,’ he said. ‘The DoH has conceded that, as a result of the cuts, there may not be sufficient funds to cover those currently on the schemes.
‘At a time when we have a shortage of GPs it is ludicrous that a valuable mechanism for returning competent GPs to work has been abandoned.’
He added that he saw this as part of a wider problem of the DoH taking money from GP training saying it was ‘cutting off the life-blood of the profession’.
Between 2002 and 2005, an estimated 550 GPs who had taken career breaks of over two years went back to work after completing ‘at-work refresher training’ with GP supervision through local deaneries.
It claims that each returner scheme ‘provided a way of easing GP shortages by delivering fully up-to-date practitioners in six to 12 months at a fraction of the cost required to train a new doctor from scratch’.
Dr Meldrum estimated that to train a GP from scratch could cost £500,000 over 10 years, whereas funding a returner may only cost £28,000. The problem has led to a number of GPs to look to alternative careers.
Dr Julia Kendall, a GP who has taken a career break, said: ‘I can’t hang around for ever so I’m looking elsewhere — possibly to a charity helping disabled children, or I may use my financial administrator experience to become an estate agent.’
Dr Vicky Weeks, chairman of the GPC’s sessional GPs subcommittee, said: ‘Many doctors are being left in dire financial circumstances with an uncertain future while the NHS is losing out on the skills of capable GPs who could be back in surgery at a small cost.’