Patients Lose Out As GPs Are Blocked From Returning To Work

The Government is exacerbating GP shortages and damaging patient care through “indefensible” cuts to valuable programmes aimed at guiding experienced GPs back to work, the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have said.

In a joint statement, the BMA and RCGP call on ministers to restore funding to GP Returner schemes that between 2002 and 2006 helped ease GP shortages by providing at work refresher training to doctors who had taken a career break of more than two years. Efficient and cost effective, these locally run programmes returned an estimated 550 GPs to the NHS in just fours years at a fraction of the cost required to train a new doctor from scratch.

However, since the Government withdrew central funding in early 2006, refresher training has virtually disappeared. The BMA and RCGP state that this “nonsensical” situation has left doctors struggling to find employment, patients potentially without a GP and the NHS suffering under another pressure.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee said: “At a time when the Department of Health is expecting a shortfall of 1,200 GPs in coming years, it is completely ludicrous to abandon a scheme with a proven track record of putting experienced GPs back into general practice. Everybody suffers as a result of this decision: the taxpayer loses their £300,000 investment in training a GP who cannot return to work, the patient potentially loses their right to see a GP and the doctor loses their career.”

Dr Maureen Baker, Honorary Secretary of the RCGP said: “After a significant break from clinical practice doctors will want to demonstrate that they have the necessary up to date skills to treat patients. Everyone agrees this is a sensible approach, but it cannot possibly be achieved without the adequate provision of refresher training.”

The BMA’s General Practitioners Committee has also sought legal advice which suggests that these cuts may have Sex Discrimination Act implications because the majority of applicants are women who have left their careers to begin a family. With no other way to return to work, the BMA and RCGP are concerned that the doctors’ statutory rights may have been infringed.

Summarising GP leader’s views, Dr Hamish Meldrum continued: “There are many serious problems that arise from this short sighted cut, but we are especially concerned that mainly women are being left with a stark choice between beginning a family or having a career.

“The BMA and RCGP are closely monitoring the possible legal ramifications of this situation, as well as continuing to help all our members who have been left in career limbo – as shown by a dossier the BMA published late last year. There is, however, a simple way for the Government to solve all these problems: Reverse this indefensible cut.”