Jeremy Hunt to pledge £20,000 'golden hello' for rural GPs

Newly-qualified GPs are to be offered a one-off payment of £20,000 if they start their careers in areas that struggle to attract family doctors.

The £4m scheme, to be announced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, aims to boost the numbers of doctors in rural and coastal areas of England.

Mr Hunt said it will help “reduce the pressure” on practices in those areas.

The Royal College of GPs backed the plan, saying there was a “serious shortage” of family doctors.

The one-off payment will be offered to 200 GPs from 2018.

As of September 2016, there were 41,985 GPs in England.

Mr Hunt told the BBC: “What we’re looking to do is to reduce the pressure on those GP practices which are doing a very, very valiant job but can’t look after patients as well as they want to, because they’re finding it hard to recruit.”

The health secretary is due to speak at the Royal College of GPs’ annual conference in Liverpool, where he will offer something for those already in the profession too, by announcing plans for flexible working for older doctors – to encourage them to put off retirement.

He will also confirm plans for an overseas recruitment office which will aim to attract GPs from countries outside Europe to work in England.

“By introducing targeted support for vulnerable areas and tackling head-on critical issues such as higher indemnity fees and the recruitment and retention of more doctors, we can strengthen and secure general practice for the future,” he will say.

The Royal College of GPs said the package must be delivered in full and welcomed the commitment to incentivise working in remote and rural areas.

NHS England has already pledged an extra £2.4bn a year for general practice in England – part of which will fund plans for 5,000 extra GPs by 2020.

But Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said the government was not on course to reach that target.

“General practice is facing unprecedented pressure from rising workload, stagnating budgets and a workforce crisis,” he said.

“‘Golden hellos’ are not a new idea and unlikely to solve the overall workforce crisis given we are failing badly to train enough GPs to meet current demands.”

In 2016, the BBC learned that there were some practices in England offering a bonus of up to £10,000 to attract new doctors.

But The Nuffield Trust think tank said recruitment was “only half the battle”.

“The NHS is struggling to hang on to qualified GPs, with surveys showing 56% plan to retire or leave practice early. Many trainees also drop out when they finish,” said senior policy fellow Rebecca Rosen.

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