Currently, the GPFV aims to attract 500 ‘returners’ to general practice by 2020/21 but progress has been so good that this target should be increased to 1,000, the college says.
As of March 2018, 660 GPs had applied to join NHS England’s return to practice scheme -created as part of the induction and refresher or ‘I&R’ scheme - with 204 of these completed, suggesting that the GP returner programme is ahead of schedule when it comes to delivering its current target.
The RCGP report says: ‘As there has been good progress with the induction and refresher (I&R) scheme, more GPs who have left should be encouraged to consider returning to practice. The capacity of this scheme should be expanded, doubling the target to 1,000, and opportunities made as attractive as possible and communicated widely.’
Alongside the scheme, NHS England has launched a social media campaign and published adverts in the UK and overseas to encourage former GPs to return to work.
Since the GPFV launched in 2016 the returner scheme - designed for doctors who wish to return to general practice following a career break - has halved the time it takes for GPs to return to work and improved the experience of doing so by providing financial and practical support.
The report continued: ‘The goal to increase the size of the GP workforce by 5,000 should be retained, and targets for the numbers of doctors joining the profession and returning to work as a GP should be increased, building on the positive progress that has been made in these areas.’
GP recruitment was highlighted by the RCGP as one of the GPFV’s ‘fundamental' problems in the college’s report, which called for an extra £2.5bn a year to secure the future of general practice.
Although the returner scheme has been praised by the RCGP, other initiatives to boost the workforce appear to have struggled. The RCGP report warned that plans to boost international GP recruitment should be scrapped unless they can start to attract doctors in greater numbers.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We are not turning our back on the GP Forward View – it remains the most constructive, indeed only, solution to tackling the intense resource and workforce pressures facing general practice, and it is making good strides in some areas.
‘But it needs an urgent overhaul to address the pledges that are not progressing fast enough, particularly around retaining our existing workforce and reducing our workload; and to recognise the changing landscape of NHS funding, which now includes a promise of £20bn extra a year by 2023.’