RCGP backs expansion of GP returner scheme to build workforce

An NHS England scheme encouraging GPs to return to work following career breaks should be expanded alongside other recruitment programmes to boost the primary care workforce, the RCGP has said.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)

Figures from NHS England show that the improved GP induction and refresher (I&R) scheme - which provides a ‘safe, supported and direct route for qualified GPs to join or return to NHS general practice’ - has received applications from more than 780 primary care doctors since it was launched in 2016.

If all applications are successful, this would represent a 56% increase on the scheme’s original target of recruiting 500 ‘returners’ into general practice by 2020/21 - a pledge made as part of the wider GP Forward View (gGPFV) promise to increase the GP workforce by 5,000.

These latest figures have prompted the RCGP to renew its call for the scheme to be expanded alongside several other programmes - including the international GP recruitment scheme - that were granted a five-year extension under the new GP contract.

Induction & refresher scheme

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard told GPonline: 'We've said for many years that to sufficiently increase GP numbers in the NHS, we will need recruit more GPs, retain our existing workforce, and make it easier for trained GPs to return to practice after a career break or period working abroad.

‘It is great news that the induction and refresher scheme is going well – and that so many appropriately-trained doctors want to work in UK general practice - but that doesn’t mean we should take our foot off the pedal, it means we should build on its success and expand it.’

This isn’t the first time the RCGP has called for the I&R scheme to be expanded. In its second annual assessment of the GPFV, published in August, the college said that the programme’s progress had been so good that its target should be doubled.

Quoting figures from March 2018 - when 204 GPs had re-joined the workforce via the scheme with a further 238 in the final stages of assessment - the report read: ‘As there has been good progress with the 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.’

An NHS England spokesperson told GPonline: ‘There are now over 780 doctors who have applied to join an improved induction and refresher scheme. These are both domestically trained or international doctors who have previously worked in the NHS but have not practised for two years or more, as well as new international doctors who are joining for the first time.’

GP workforce

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, GPC executive team member for workforce, said he was pleased the I&R process was ‘showing signs of being successful’.

‘GPs with years of experience, whether coming to work here for the first time or looking to return to practise in the UK after a break, have much to offer general practice and its patients, and it is positive that this programme is helping them embed themselves easily,’ he said.

Earlier this month NHS England unveiled plans to extend several other GP recruitment programmes ‘for the duration of the five-year period 2019/20-2023/24’ - despite questions over their effectiveness.

This includes the international GP recruitment scheme, which the BMA branded ‘disappointing’ last week after GPonline revealed that the programme had signed up just 34 GPs in three years - less than 2% of the 2,000 GPs NHS England hoped to recruit from outside the UK by 2020.

The GP retention scheme has also been earmarked for extension. As of September 2018 there were 320 GP retainers working in general practice in England - representing a 47% increase compared to September 2017. However, the overall GP workforce remains in decline, with figures published late last year confirming a fall of 221 FTE GPs in the year to September 2018.

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