Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has come under fire about plans to encourage access to NHS services in rural areas.
In live questions in Parliament last week, he told Conservative MP Nigel Evans that “active GP practices in rural areas were very important”. However, he has admitted to Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani that “it was often difficult to recruit GPs to work in rural areas”.
He told MPs that plans are in place for £20,000 ‘golden hello’s’ for GPs working in hard-to-fill areas. He also announced a 25 per cent increase in medical school places with 500 additional students staring that year and 1,000 the year after.
It is expected that in the in the 2018 ‘golden hello’ Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme (TERS) for trainee GPs announced in October there will be financial support for up to 200 places. TERS operates across Great Britain with schemes in place in Scotland and Wales, as well as England.
The locations identified by Health Education England and NHS England are:
- Lincolnshire (Boston & Lincoln), Sherwood Forest
- Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Norfolk
- Durham & North Yorkshire, North Cumbria
- Blackpool, Crewe, Lancaster, South Cumbria
- North Devon, Plymouth, Somerset, Swindon
- Isle of Wight
- Hereford & Worcester, Staffordshire
- Clumber Park, Doncaster, Hull, Northern Lincolnshire (Scunthorpe & Grimsby), Scarborough
The Dispensing Doctors’ Association has called on the government to do more to address matters around retention.
DDA chairman Dr Richard West, whose practice is in rural Suffolk, said: “The DDA welcomes any initiative to tackle the problem of the shortage of new GPs, especially in rural areas. However, the government might be better placed to consider what it could do to persuade GPs close to, or already, taking retirement to postpone doing so. It is experienced GPs who are going to keep the system going, in addition to bringing newer GPs into the system.
“Attention must also be paid to ensuring the continuing viability of rural general practice, or there will be no surgeries for the new GPs targeted by this scheme to join.”
The DDA has been lobbying for some time to ensure that the government and NHS England recognise the importance, and fund according, rural surgeries which are at the heart of often very sparse communities. “Federations and ‘upscaling’ will not work in remote and rural areas where practices are tens of miles from the nearest town,” said Dr West.
To support TERS, a package of measures will be made available. Other measures announced include:
- new flexible working arrangements, including the opportunity to take on mentoring and leadership roles, for GPs considering retirement;
- a new international recruitment office set up by NHS England to help local areas to recruit GPs from overseas, with plans to expand fast-track routes into general practice for doctors trained outside the European Economic Area in countries such as Australia;
- a consultation on the regulation of physician associates to provide further clarity on the scope of the role, and exploring how support staff can bolster healthcare teams across the country.