By the end of 2018, 785 GPs had applied to join the I&R scheme, which provides a ‘safe, supported and direct route for qualified GPs to join or return to NHS general practice’. Of these, 279 have now fully completed the programme and joined the GP workforce - more than 50% of NHS England’s GP Forward View (GPFV) target of recruiting 500 ‘returners’ by 2020/21.
With just under two years left until the GPFV deadline, NHS England and Health Education England are launching a campaign to promote the I&R scheme through digital, social media and print advertising.
NHS England acting medical director for primary care Dr Nikita Kanani said: ‘We’re delighted to see how many GPs have returned via the scheme, with more than 50% of the recruitment target already achieved.
‘This is just one of several plans we have underway to recruit more GPs, including having more trainees in place than ever before. So, it makes sense to raise the profile of a scheme that we know works and allows colleagues to return to practice safely and confidently.’
The RCGP has welcomed the move, and called for the scheme to be expanded further. RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Increasing GP numbers in the NHS will be vital to deliver the aspirations of the NHS long-term plan, in the best interests of patients. To achieve this we will need to recruit more GPs, retain our existing experienced workforce, and make it easier for trained GPs to return to practice after a career break or period working abroad.
‘The I&R scheme has demonstrated positive results so far – and it’s great that so many appropriately-trained doctors want to work in UK general practice – we now need to build on this success and expand it.’
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey also welcomed the ‘renewed support’ for the I&R scheme, and said it was ‘vital’ that general practice in England ‘doesn’t lose this valuable section of our workforce for good, especially if they do wish to return’.
The NHS is set to invest an extra £978m in core general practice funding by 2023/24 as part of the new GP contract, published in January. NHS England has also pledged to recruit more than 20,000 healthcare workers to support family doctors over the next five years.
Dr Vautrey added: ‘If we are to encourage even more doctors to enter or return to the workforce, current workload pressures must be addressed, and efforts made to improve the high-stress working environment. The recently-agreed five-year contract deal between ourselves and NHS England has laid the groundwork for this, with its boost to funding and promise of additional staff working within practices, easing the workload burden on GPs and making general practice a more attractive career prospect.’
One GP ‘returner’ who rejoined the NHS workforce via the I&R scheme is Reverend Dr Anne Kazich, 49, who now works as both a part-time GP and a part-time community minister in Skelmersdale.
The Rev Kazich left medicine in 2012 to train as a minister, but returned to general practice last year. ‘I always felt my ‘ministry’ was not just within the church but with people, so in 2017 I decided to return to medicine,’ she said.
‘Coming back to general practice felt like coming home. As I have a passion for healing and holistic approach, I’m glad because two vocations have come together in a way I would have never dreamed of.’