Cut red tape for returning GPs to help ease A&E burden, says doctors' chief

New Royal College of GPs chair is lobbying ministers to make it easier for female doctors to re-enter NHS after having children

Ministers and GPs are discussing a plan to ease the shortage of family doctors by making it easier for thousands who have left the NHS to return to work.

Dr Maureen Baker, the new chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGPs), wants to create "a short-term surge" in GP numbers by targeting female GPs who ceased practising in order to have children and family doctors who have moved abroad temporarily.

Baker has opened talks with the Department of Health and NHS England about lifting some of the barriers that make it difficult for GPs who have not practised in England for two years to get permission to resume treating patients.

The NHS was wasting money by spending £500,000 educating and training GPs and then making it too onerous for those who want to return to practice after a break to do so, she said. "There is an urgent, desperate need for extra GPs. But the rules about these sorts of GPs coming back into primary care are too rigid at the moment.

"There are several thousand GPs who are currently not working as GPs in the NHS; a significant proportion of whom, if there were the right incentives and the right route back into practice, would come back in," Baker told the Guardian in her first interview as she prepares to replace Dr Clare Gerada as head of the RCGPs.

Baker said the health minister Dr Dan Poulter "was very interested" in the idea when she talked to him about it, and she expected Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to be "very receptive" once details have been finalised.

Hunt has acknowledged that a lack of GPs is one reason why family doctors are struggling to cope with rising demand for appointments and pressure on A&E units. Baker's plan to entice "GP returners" is separate to the RCGPs' plea to increase the GP workforce by 10,000 from the current 33,000 and health secretary Jeremy Hunt's pledge of an extra 2,000.

"If we could get 1,000 or maybe 2,000 [more] GPs over the next two to three years that would really have an impact for patients because we don't have enough at the moment. The benefits could include more appointments and more services for patients, making it easier to deliver extended opening hours, less pressure on A&E units and less pressure on GPs, who are already up over their eyes", added Baker, who wants NHS England to fund the scheme.

Bringing 1,000 GPs back into the workforce, on their average salary of £80,000 and with them working part-time because many would be mothers of young children, would cost just £40m a year, Baker estimates – "a tiny amount" compared to the NHS's £110bn budget, she said.

Currently GPs who want to return after two years away must first gain entry to a local "performers list" of approved family doctors. However, in order to ensure skills and knowledge are up to date, this can involve an interview, sitting an exam and working in a surgery for no or little money during a period of supervision.

"It's an incredibly long and torturous process," said Baker. "If I'm a GP in Australia with a job and a house and I'm looking at that, I'm thinking 'I don't think I will come back'."

The rules mean that a GP who has been practising medicine in Australia for three years will have to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, whereas a doctor from an EU country who speaks English will be admitted automatically onto a performers list, despite their unfamiliarity with the NHS, she said.

An NHS England spokesman said: "Doctors need to be able to demonstrate to the General Medical Council, provider organisations and patients and public that they are up to date and fit to practice. NHS England is working with the GMC and professional bodies to support the processes."

The Department of Health said any changes to the current system would still leave returning GPs facing an assessment of their skills. "We are always interested in looking at ways to increase GP numbers. However, patient safety is paramount and NHS England needs to make sure that doctors returning to practice have the requisite skills and knowledge. This requires an assessment of each doctor's needs."


Denis Campbell, health correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jeremy Hunt orders same-day GP appointments to ease A&E burden

Health secretary outlines long- and short-term measures to address growing strain on accident and emergency wards

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor

10, Sep, 2013 @3:50 PM

Article image
NHS facing summer crisis as A&E performance deteriorates, says Labour

Opposition says hospitals having to cope with unexpected rise in patients – raising questions about inadequate GP services

Patrick Wintour, political editor

10, Jun, 2014 @9:00 PM

Article image
GPs working longer hours won’t ease the pressure on the NHS | Letters
Letters: Appointments at 7.45pm on Saturday or 8am on Sunday may suit those in work but they are not the people arriving at A&E departments


15, Jan, 2017 @6:36 PM

Article image
Doctors training as specialists at all-time low, leaked figures show
Number of junior doctors applying to start training for key hospital-based specialities has dropped 8% in three years

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

10, Feb, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
A&E crisis: Jeremy Hunt announces fundamental review of emergency care
Health secretary says review will look at A&E closures and how to alter GP contract

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor

06, Jun, 2013 @11:14 AM

Article image
‘A horrible winter lies ahead’: next PM will inherit an NHS on its knees
Experts say Tory leadership rivals appear not to have grasped the scale of the crisis facing the service

Andrew Gregory Health editor

29, Aug, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
Third of GPs back charges for A&E patients to tackle crisis

A&E specialists believe up to 40% of all visits unnecessary, but medical bodies warn charges would penalise poorer patients

Denis Campbell, health correspondent

03, Jan, 2014 @12:01 AM

Article image
GPs should do more to take pressure off A&E departments, says May
Prime minister wants surgeries to offer a seven-day service, but is accused of trying to scapegoat family doctors for chaos in NHS hospitals

Heather Stewart and Denis Campbell

13, Jan, 2017 @11:56 PM

Article image
GP contract changes may hit services, says doctors union
BMA says doctors will have to do more work for less pay under shakeup aimed at reducing toll of avoidably early deaths

Denis Campbell, health correspondent

07, Dec, 2012 @5:56 PM

Article image
As a GP, having my heart surgery cancelled gave me a new perspective on NHS underfunding
Dave Triff, who has worked in the NHS for decades, recently had his operation postponed at the last minute, one of many cancelled to stave off a winter crisis

Dave Triffit

14, Jan, 2018 @9:34 PM