Doctors in training who agree to start their careers in coastal and rural areas – where recruiting GPs has been particularly tough – will receive a one-off £20,000 payment in plans announced today (October 11) by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Dubbed a ‘golden hello’, the payment is meant to aid GP surgeries with the greatest staffing problems and will be made to 200 doctors from 2018.
Hunt announced the £4m scheme alongside other measures the government will take to tackle the mounting GP staffing crisis, such as introducing flexible working arrangements for older doctors to encourage them to delay their retirement.
The health secretary also confirmed a major overseas recruitment drive he announced earlier this summer, which aims to bring in 5,000 more GPs by 2020.
Hunt also outlined plans for regulating physician associates to give more clarity over what the role would entail as the government aims to recruit 1,000 more associates in the next two years. But these plans have before come under fire for seeking to replace doctors by giving associates duties that should be undertaken by GPs.
A state-backed clinical negligence indemnity scheme was also announced as a way to tackle runaway insurance costs which have been blamed for forcing some doctors out of the profession.
But for many in the field, these measure are being criticised as too little, too late. GPs have long warned that their profession has been facing a staffing crisis that gets worse each and every year.
After all, it’s not only rural areas being hit by staff shortages — figures from the British Medical Association (BMA) have found that one in three surgeries have vacancies that are unfilled.
Another BMA survey found that a third of all GPs are planning on retiring within the next five years because of excessive workloads. Another third reported that they are planning on going part-time.
Trainee GPs are also, like their older counterparts, turning away from the NHS – a third said they did not see themselves working in the health service for more than five years.
Hunt was grilled by GPs at the Royal College of GPs annual conference today (October 11) where he announced the government’s plans to recruit and retain doctors.
One doctor told Hunt in a question and answer session following his speech that he was warned at the very same conference three years ago about the GP staffing crisis.
“And it has gotten worse on your watch, as we told you it would,” the doctor said. “I ask why should we believe what you are saying today when you weren’t listening then?”
Hunt responded by saying he disagreed with the “sentiment of the question”.
“I did not say we would solve those problems overnight,” he said. “I don’t think you could say for a moment I was ducking the challenges facing general practice.
“The long-term issue is getting more GPs to do the work we need general practice to do – and what I have done in the three years since is I have put in a programme to get 5,000 more GPs – that doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a lot of work,” Hunt added.
Dr David Wrigley, GP in Carnforth, north Lancashire and Chair of Unite’s Medical Practitioners Union criticised the measures Hunt announced today, saying they were “mere sticking plaster”.
“We have seen seven years of underinvestment and attacks on the NHS leaving staff demoralised and unable to provide safe care to their patients,” he said.
“Doctors are working nonstop for 12-13 hours dealing with 60-70 patients a day and this is why GPs are walking away — they cannot provide the safe care they were trained to do,” Dr Wrigley added.
“Trying to bribe young GPs with additional income just won’t wash. The problems we face aren’t about income — they’re about the unprecedented pressures and rising workload we face as well as an NHS that has been attacked year on year by a privatising and austerity-driven government.”