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NHS England to end two GP retention schemes

NHS England has announced it will end two schemes designed to retain GPs through professional development.

The current general practice fellowship and mentorship programs will end March 31, the commissioner said.

The Scholarships has provided practices with funding to enable its newly qualified GPs to spend one session per week undertaking CPD, plus an administrative fee – a total of £10,000.

Meanwhile, the mentoring scheme has funded experienced GPs with up to £289 a week to provide mentoring to younger GPs during a session.

But in its latest primary care bulletin, NHS England said both schemes would end. The Commissioner added that they will ‘continue to invest in maintaining the GP’ with more information and guidance to follow.

The bulletin said: ‘The current National GP Retention Schemes General Practice Fellowships and Mentorships will end on 31 March 2024. Joining GPs and Nurses programs prior to that date will continue to be supported until they complete their two-year program.

‘NHS England will continue to invest in GP Retention in 2024/25. Further information and guidance will be available in early 2024.’

Pulse asked NHS England why they decided to end these plans but have not yet received a reply.

Nursing leaders have suggested the ICB could decide to invest in maintaining the GPN fellowship scheme but NHS England has not provided clarification on Pulse’s sister post Nursing in practice.

RCGP President Professor Kamila Hawthorne said the decision to end the GP retention program was “both surprising and very disappointing”, especially at a time when “we need to do everything we can to keep GPs in the workforce.”

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She told Pulse: ‘We are not aware of any immediate plans to replace them. If this continues, we need to understand the rationale and what will happen next to ensure that we can keep as many GPs as possible in the workforce.

‘It is vital that newly qualified GPs are given the opportunity to settle into practice and learn – we hope that if these schemes are scrapped, there will be plans to replace them with something something better and more accessible throughout the whole of England.’

She also added that there needs to be ‘immediate efforts’ to expand retention initiatives, not stop those currently on offer, so that the NHS can ‘ maintain its workforce and meet growing demand’, while ensuring that ‘hard-earned practical experience’ is passed on to the next generation of GPs.

Doctors’ Association spokesman Dr Steve Taylor told Pulse that if NHS England ‘truly believed in community care for patients and GP retention’ it would not close two schemes aimed at GP retention.

He said: ‘Current NHS policies continue to fail GP practice. With core funding falling in real terms and funding levels continuing to increase at below-inflation levels, this will have a significant impact on safe and effective primary care.

‘This at a time when there are increasingly more junior doctors and increased demand, again fails to demonstrate leadership within NHSE and more broadly the Government’s planning.’

Under the two-year scholarship program:

  • Practices have been given £7,200 to provide backfill GP cover, plus a further £3,000 for ‘programme delivery’, including administration and CPD costs
  • CPD focuses on ‘working, learning and developing a post-registration PCN portfolio, supporting nurses and GPs to take on key roles, understanding the context in which they work’;
  • Newly qualified GPs took up ‘rotational positions within or between PCNs to develop experience and support the transition into the workforce’.

The mentoring program allows more experienced GPs to train as ‘mentors’, leading to an industry-recognised qualification.

In October, an NHS England director suggested that offering GPs more opportunities for portfolio careers would help with recruitment and retention.

As part of a major investigation into recruitment and retention earlier this year, GPs told Pulse that taking on portfolio roles could help retain fully trained young GPs , because it prevents them from leaving the profession altogether or migrating.

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