Headlines: December 2nd, 2002

An increase in so-called ‘golden hello’ payments to family doctors of up to 12,000 pounds has been announced to improve recruitment and retention of doctors, consultants and GPs in the NHS.The increase is included in a package of measures launched by the Health Minister John Hutton. The payments were first introduced in April 2001 and since then more than 1700 have been made. It is hoped that the extension of the scheme to GPs who return to practice and the increase in the maximum payment up to 12,000 pounds in areas in most need of doctors areas will boost recruitment.

At the same time a national ‘Returners’ campaign has been launched to offer advice, training and support to GPs, consultants and doctors in the training grades who are not currently working in the NHS. It will be backed by national advertising and local communications campaigns. Returning doctors will be given a clear, supported route back into the health service and  will be paid for refresher training and given the option of working full or part time.

The Flexible Careers Scheme, launched a year ago for hospital doctors and doctors in training, is also being extended to those who wish to work part time. GPs will be able to organise their working time across the year, working different hours at particular periods, such as putting in more hours during term time and fewer during school holidays.

Mr. Hutton said, “We will need to provide in future much more flexible working opportunities for doctors as they train to become fully qualified GPs or hospital consultants. We need to improve retention so that fewer doctors leave the service having reached burn out after years of high-pressure working. And we need to improve the rate of conversion from completing training to taking up full time posts.”

Professor David Haslam welcomed the proposals on behalf of the Royal College of GPs, which he chairs. He said, “Flexible working options have long been lacking for family doctors and this scheme will go some way  towards addressing that. We know about 16 per cent of all GPs in the UK  work part time, with female practitioners making up 75 per cent of those.”

He hoped that offering flexible working hours to family doctors would allow more of them to re-enter practice. Professor David Hall, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, praised the initiative because, he said, it was adapted to individuals and provided significant funding for the service.