Golden hello scheme drives surge in new GP partners

More than 1,300 GPs have benefited from 'golden hello' payments worth up to £20,000 under an NHS scheme to encourage doctors to become partners for the first time.

Sheaf of £20 notes
Golden hello scheme brings in new GP partners (Photo: Andrew Brookes/Getty Images)

Figures shared with GPonline reveal that a total of 1,360 people were admitted to the New to Partnership Payment Scheme between its launch in July 2020 and the end of January 2022.

NHS England's annual report said that 488 new partners had joined the scheme in 2020/21 - but the figures obtained by GPonline are the first to show the full extent of uptake of partnership incentives.

Over £21.5m in total has been spent on the scheme, which is open to GPs and other healthcare professionals taking up a partnership role in a practice for the first time. The new partners are made up of 1,308 GPs, 25 nurses, 20 pharmacists, four paramedics, two physician associates and one physiotherapist.

GP partners

The average full-time equivalent (FTE) commitment of new partners brought in through the scheme is 0.77 - meaning the headcount figure of 1,360 translates to 1,050 FTE partners.

Numbers of FTE GPs in partnership roles have been in freefall in recent years, dropping by a staggering 22% from 21,655 in September 2015 to 16,943 in the latest workforce data, for December 2021.

However, the December 2021 total was up by 17 compared with the previous month - the first time in more than half a decade that a rise has been recorded between sets of workforce figures published by NHS Digital.

The New to Partnership Payment Scheme figures suggest that take-up has accelerated in the current financial year compared with 2020/21 - with around 54 partners per month joining in the nine months of 2020/21 in which it was operational, compared with 87 per month in 2021/22.

GP retention

BMA England GP committee deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said: 'The New to Partnership Payment Scheme was part of NHS England and DHSC’s commitment to the partnership model and we are glad that it is being taken up in such numbers.

While we think progress has been encouraging, it can do better and we are keen to ensure this scheme encourages GPs to become partners.

'However, we must do more to ensure we don’t lose partners at the same or greater rate as we gain them - we must ensure the partnership model is sustained and supported, and the work environment becomes less pressured.

'To achieve this the government must reduce bureaucracy and along with NHS England must trust partners to make decisions based on the needs of their patients and local population. That will not only make general practice a better place to work for existing partners, but will attract more GPs - something that is sorely needed.'

The scheme offers a golden hello payment worth up to £20,000 plus a contribution towards on-costs of up to £4,000 for new partners working full time.

Participants must 'commit to remaining a partner in a GP practice for five years' or pay back part of the funding and deliver a 'minimum of two clinical sessions per week in their partnership practice throughout the five-year period'. The scheme is open to healthcare professionals who signed a partnership agreement 'on or after 1 April 2020'.

Figures revealing the impact of the partnership incentive scheme, however, come as the wider GP workforce remains in decline. The fully-qualified FTE GP workforce is down by almost 1,500 doctors compared with five years ago.

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