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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 09:03 GMT
Cash boost to recruit new GPs
All newly-qualified family doctors are to receive a £5,000 "golden hello" as part of a drive to recruit more front-line staff to the NHS.
In addition, new GPs who opt to work for at least three years in a deprived area will be given an extra £5,000.
The measures were announced by Health Secretary Alan Milburn on Tuesday.
Doctors who have quit general practice will also be offered a £5,000 payment to go back into practice.
And GPs who are planning to retire early at 60 will be offered a £10,000 investment bond if they stay on until for an extra five years.
And former nurses coming back to the NHS will be able to claim £1,000 while they complete their 12-week "nurse returner" course, which was previously completely unfunded.
An extra £15 million has also been earmarked for 50 new NHS nurseries in a bid to help doctors, nurses and other staff who have families.
No new hospital development will be approved unless it makes provision for a staff nursery.
Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that an extra £1bn would be pumped into the NHS over the next three years.
A total of £168m of that money will be used to fund recruitment and retention initiatives.
Mr Milburn said: "Doctors and nurses do a great job for the NHS and we need more of them.
"The initiatives I am announcing today will mean we can make an extra effort to recruit and retain the NHS doctors and nurses we need, as well as encouraging those who have left to return."
Ministers are very concerned at the growing shortage of GPs in deprived areas.
They see boosting numbers as key to their aim of reducing health inequalities across the UK.
The situation is likely to be made considerably worse by the imminent retirement of many doctors from the Asian sub-continent, who were recruited to solve a similar staffing crisis in the 1960s.
The government wants to recruit an extra 2,000 GPs by 2004.
But the British Medical Association has warned that without an increase of 10,000 in GP numbers there is no way the ambitious targets laid out in last year's NHS Plan will be achieved.
The plan set out proposals to guarantee all patients access to a family doctor within 48 hours.
Morale among GPs is said to be dangerously low, with many set on early retirement.
Doctors say they are over-worked. The BMA has also blamed the recent pay award, which, it says amounts to just 2.33% once GP expenses are taken into consideration.
The depth of the morale problems in general practice were graphically illustrated by a survey in GP magazine published this week.
Dr Brian Metcalfe, 41, told the magazine he was quitting general practice because he is so frustrated with what is going on in the NHS.
"I know overseas doctors who have experienced the NHS and view it as a joke," he said.
One female doctor, who was too afraid of health authority reprisals to identify herself, told the magazine: "I used to be an outgoing, fun-loving person but now I'm an exhausted wreck. I would leave this job in an instant if I could."
The cash payment for trainees entering practices in poorer areas is aimed at reducing the high rate of young doctors who do not go on to be GPs when they finish their studies.
The areas to qualify for the bonuses include Slough, Ealing, Peterborough, Birmingham and Sunderland.
'More must be done'
Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, said: "The government is very clearly now acknowledging that there are serious and long-standing problems in GP recruitment and retention.
"The proposed moves are positive, and can only help. However, there is a great deal more that can be done."
Dr Chisholm said ministers should also consider improved return-to-work training, better pensions and more family friendly working arrangements.
Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox drew attention to a survey in Doctor magazine which shows that 70% of GPs are ready to take industrial action to highlight their anger.
He said: "If Labour seriously wishes to increase recruitment, Alan Milburn should get off doctors' backs, and allow them to spend more time seeing patients and less filling in forms."
Nick Harvey, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "The Government's own figures show that the number of GPs retiring under the age of 65 each year is less than 1.5% of the total GP population.
"Paying GPs to stay on will not plug the NHS gap. Even if some are tempted by today's scheme, it will not be enough to reverse the worrying trend.
"Recruitment from abroad is the only feasible short-term solution.
"In the longer term we desperately need to increase the number of trainee doctors."
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