Uptake of GP retainer scheme dwarfed by numbers quitting NHS each month

Fewer GPs are currently supported by the retainer scheme than quit the profession each month, analysis by GPonline has shown - as the BMA hit out at poor uptake and called for better promotion of the scheme.

Consultation (Photo: iStock.com/sturti)
Consultation (Photo: iStock.com/sturti)

Just 286 GPs are currently being supported by the GP retention scheme, according to official data for March 2018.

But statistics from NHS Digital show that around 5,159 GPs left the profession in 2016/17, equivalent to around 430 a month.

Numbers of doctors in NHS GP retention scheme have increased by 80% since September 2015, but the BMA's report The general practice forward view: two years on has criticised the programme's uptake as ‘relatively low’.

GP recruitment

Asking GPs to remain in the workforce is a major part of the government's plan to deliver an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020/21 - when the target was set, officials revealed that it would include persuading 1,000 existing doctors to delay retirement or return from career breaks.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'More does need to be done to inform practices and CCGs of this option and enable more GPs to consider it. By reducing their clinical commitment to a manageable level many GPs on the retainer scheme have been able to establish a better work-life balance and therefore made it possible to stay in the workforce rather than leaving altogether.'

An NHS spokesperson told GPonline: 'NHS England is working with the BMA and has introduced a number of schemes to retain excellent doctors - including the GP retention scheme which is supporting nearly 300 GPs.

'These initiatives include a further £10m investment to support local retention of doctors, together with more training places and improved support for GPs to return to practice.'

Retention crisis

Dr Vautrey said last week that ‘GP Forward View has failed to make a big enough impact on the recruitment and retention crisis’, and the BMA warned it was 'vital that more is done to make GPs aware of the scheme'.

A BMA survey released in March 2018 found that 54% of respondents reported that retention and vacancy rates had either worsened or significantly worsened. Just 7.5% reported an improvement in retention.

The BMA and NHS England are currently working together to produce national promotional materials, including live case studies, to ensure that GPs who are seeking flexible working options are aware of the retention scheme.

Last week, health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted the government was ‘struggling’ to hit the target number of extra GPs.

The updated GP retention scheme was re-launched in April 2017 to support GPs who, for personal reasons, cannot work more than four sessions per week.

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