Campaign to bring more family doctors back to general practice

A new campaign aimed at getting hundreds of family doctors to return to general practice will be launched this week.

It will raise the profile of a scheme that has already attracted almost 800 GPs into coming out of retirement, returning to the profession after taking a break or working in another occupation, or moving from overseas.

NHS England and Health Education England (HEE) have produced a new brochure for GPs considering a return which details the improvements that the NHS Long Term Plan will deliver for general practice, with billions in extra funding and plans to recruit 22,000 health professionals to support GPs that will improve services for patients while also easing the GP workload.

The Induction and Refresher (I&R) Scheme will also be promoted through a digital, social media and print advertising campaign.

The Reverend Dr Anne Kazich, 49, who now works as both a part-time GP in Skelmersdale as well as a part-time community minister for the Anglican church, is among those who have recently returned.

The Rev Kazich left medicine in 2012 to follow her religious calling and train as a minister, but returned to general practice last year.

The healer said: “I always felt my ‘ministry’ was not just within the church but with people, so in 2017 I decided to return to medicine. 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.”

The Induction and Refresher Scheme was upgraded in 2016 with a new package of support to make it easier for doctors to return to the profession and a target of recruiting 500 GPs by 2020.

By the end of 2018 a total of 785 GPs had applied to join the scheme. Of these, 279 have now fully completed the programme and joined the GP workforce in England.

Now NHS England and HEE are looking to recruit hundreds more to help deliver the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s acting medical director for primary care and a south-east London GP said: “We’re delighted to see how many GPs have returned via the scheme, with more than 50% of the recruitment target already achieved.

“General Practice is the bedrock of the health service and is a priority as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. We understand the pressures GPs are under, and have invested an extra £978million in core general practice funding by 2023-24 as part of the GP Contract, together with a pledge to recruit more than 20,000 healthcare workers to support family doctors over the next five years.

“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.”

Professor Simon Gregory, Director and Dean of Education and Quality, Midlands and East and GP Lead for Health Education England said: “We are really pleased the revamped Induction and Refresher Scheme has proved so popular.  It’s important that GPs who have careers breaks can safely and confidently return to practice and feel supported in doing so. The changes made to the scheme in recent years have made a huge difference and it has been great to welcome so many colleagues back and caring for patients.”

Health Minister, Steve Brine said: “GPs are the bedrock of the NHS and primary care is at the forefront of our NHS Long Term Plan, with an extra £4.5 billion going to the sector. This investment shows our commitment to general practice and so we want to make it quicker and easier for former GPs to return to the profession, confident they will have the support and funding they need, so patients can benefit from their wealth of experience.

“Alongside this we are recruiting record numbers into GP training while also looking at how we provide more support to encourage staff to stay within general practice.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, 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 Induction and Refresher 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.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: “While GPs, for various reasons, may wish to take time away from the country or from practice altogether, it is vital that we do not lose this valuable section of our workforce for good, especially if they do wish to return. Therefore, we are pleased that this scheme – backed by the BMA – has proven so successful so far, and we welcome the renewed offer of support for these experienced doctors wanting to bring their skills and expertise back to British general practice.

“Crucially, 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.”

Another returnee is Dr Kevin Weaver, 61, who took early retirement in 2013 to look after his poorly wife, but now works two days a week as a locum in Sunderland.

He explained: “I’ve always felt privileged being a GP and missed the challenge. I’m very glad that I came back because not a day goes by when I don’t get great feedback from patients. It’s highly rewarding. I don’t think I would have come back without the scheme. It provided financial support, a clinical placement and an educational supervisor. It equips you for coming back, because things have changed over the last 6 years.”

Nicky Cleave, 50, was out of general practice for more than 20 years before returning in November 2017 and now works as a GP two-days a week in a Dorset practice which she combines with her other role as a public health consultant.

She said: “I didn’t think it was feasible to return after being away so long but I was pleasantly surprised by what was on offer from the returner scheme in terms of support. Initially I found it very full on, but If I can do it, anyone can. It is hard work but it’s very rewarding. It’s a great challenge.”

The return to practice brochure is aimed at qualified family doctors of any nationality who are interested in working in general practice in England, but not currently doing so, and gives them help to find their route back in to the profession.

It states: “Your life may have changed; NHS general practice is changing too. Whatever your reason for taking a break, you’ll be coming back to one of the most rewarding, challenging, flexible and diverse careers in medicine.

“Investment in primary care has been increasing and the new GP contract from 2019/20, has provided more certainty around funding, while looking to reduce pressure on general practice.”

The brochure reinforces the message about an extra £1 billion a year going into core general practice funding by 2023-24 and many areas are starting to work in primary care networks with growing multi-disciplinary teams.

It adds: “In addition, up to £1.8 billion is being invested by 2023-24 on another 20,000 clinical pharmacists, social prescribing link workers, physiotherapists and physician associates. These developments allow GPs to focus on the most complex patients and will in time mean they can provide longer appointments where needed.

“A new state backed indemnity scheme will start from April 2019 for all general practice staff, while additional funding for IT will allow both patients and practices to benefit from the latest digital technologies, cutting down on unnecessary paperwork.”