Childcare costs for doctors to be covered in drive to boost GP numbers

The NHS has launched a new scheme to encourage hundreds more doctors to return to general practice by offering help towards the costs of caring for children or family members.

Qualified GPs who are interested in coming back to the NHS or joining from overseas will now able to access financial support worth up to £2,000 if family responsibilities would be a barrier to completing the necessary training.

The new help is being added to the NHS Induction and Refresher scheme, which has already encouraged 500 GPs who have previously worked for the NHS or who practised overseas to join the NHS, and to bring their skills up to current requirements.

The programme was set up as part of wider work to improve access to primary care for patients by bolstering the numbers of full time equivalent GPs, which has remained stable at around 34,000 over the last five years, despite the head count increasing by around 5,000.

It forms part of a raft of measures, underpinned by a new GP Contract, which aims to deliver 6,000 more doctors and 26,000 more supporting roles, to increase the number of services and appointments available for patients close to their own home.

Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director for primary care at NHS England, said: “Family doctors and their teams have played a vital role during the coronavirus pandemic and rapidly adapted how they work to ensure people can still access care in new and more convenient ways, and our ambition remains to recruit thousands more GPs and other clinicians to offer the best care we can for our patients.

“GPs, like those in any other walk of life, might take time out from their career to raise a family which can bring additional challenges, move or work abroad or gain experience in a different profession or role.

“But whatever the reason, there is a direct route for those that wish to return to a career in NHS general practice, at a time when the NHS needs all the expertise it can draw on to help in the ongoing response to coronavirus – and thanks to this brilliant scheme, it has never been easier.”

The NHS has confirmed it will also cover those with caring responsibilities. Anyone already on the scheme can claim costs back retrospectively up to 1st April this year.

This new support offer is in addition to the £3,500 bursary and other benefits GPs on the scheme are entitled to. This also includes:

  • a re-location package of up to £18,500
  • a reimbursement of occupational health checks
  • up to four fully funded attempts at the assessments
  • access to a national support team so that each GP has access to a dedicated account manager and contact point to support them through the entire process

The scheme has been developed together with Health Education England and in partnership with the Royal College of General Practitioners and British Medical Association to ensure the best practical and financial support for GPs.

The Induction and Refresher Scheme was first introduced in 2016 to make it easier for doctors to return to the profession, with a target of recruiting 500 GPs by 2020.

By the end of May 2020 over 1000 GPs had applied to join the scheme. Of these, almost 500 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 Samira Anane, BMA GP committee workforce policy lead, said: “General practice continues to be in desperate need of doctors, and therefore it makes no sense for childcare and other caring responsibilities to be a barrier for those GPs who want to offer their valuable and much-needed skills to the NHS.

“These may be doctors who have taken time away from practice to have children and we must do all we can to support them when they want to return to the frontline.

“We are glad that this support – already available to employed workers – is now available to those on this scheme, and, after pressure from the BMA, has been extended to returning GPs with other caring responsibilities as well.

“We are committed to supporting a diverse workforce, and doctors should not be forced to choose between caring for their families or caring for patients. We hope these changes will allow more skilled GPs back into the workforce.”

As part of the Long Term Plan, there will be 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.

In addition, more than £1.4 billion a year will be invested by 2023/24 on another 26,000 staff, including 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.