County Durham has one of the oldest established schemes to attract young GPs. Now entering its third year, 'Career Start' has already offered 15 vocationally trained GPs the opportunity to sample work in general practice without making a life-long commitment to one surgery. Two have now taken up partnerships within the county and others are likely to do so.
Career Start was set up after the health authority realised GPs were finding it increasingly difficult to attract new partners and one village had been left virtually without a doctor.
Career Start GPs are salaried for two years, placed in a mentor practice and given time for personal education and development. The scheme is now being piloted in Teesside and Sunderland.
But has it worked? The county has only five vacancies for GP partners - an improvement. Scheme organiser Jamie Harrison believes it has changed young doctors' perceptions of the county as a place to live and work, which may mean GPs are choosing it above other areas. But crucially, he argues, it has attracted people who would otherwise have dropped out of general practice.
Four years ago, vocational training scheme organisers in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham found it impossible to fill places and were concerned about what this would mean for the future of general practice in the area.
But today, medical graduates are queuing up for the South London Organisation of Vocational Training Schemes' innovative scheme. In 1994 Guy's and St Thomas's scheme received 12 applications for 10 places. This year it got 80. The scheme is geared towards the problems a GP is likely to find in their surgery, rather than in hospital. For example, a GP registrar doing a six-month stint in obstetrics and gynaecology will be offered placements in the community rather than just seeing complex surgical cases and difficult births in hospital - which they would never encounter in general practice.
The scheme also offers associate places for newly qualified GPs, which include time for personal development and research as well as clinical sessions, a welcome pack for new GPs and a matching scheme to link young GPs with existing vacancies.