Published: 05/12/2002, Volume112 No. 5834 Page 8 9

The government has beefed up its ailing GP recruitment drive after new NHS figures confirmed a worsening of family doctor shortages across England and Wales.

Under a package of measures announced by health minister John Hutton at last week's British Medical Association medical careers fair in London, primary care trusts will now be able to offer new and returning GPs up to£12,000 on top of their salaries to work in areas of particular recruitment difficulty.

The 'golden hello' scheme, launched with an upper limit of£10,000 in March 2001, is now available to eligible GPs taking up posts with a minium time commitment of 20 per cent, in around 150 PCTs across the country.

Mr Hutton announced a 'returners' campaign to offer advice, training and support to qualified GPs not currently working in the NHS through the 'flexible careers scheme' - originally set up for hospital doctors last November.

The scheme will give returning GPs, locums or 'career break' GPs salaried refresher training if they make a minimum commitment of four sessions a week to the NHS. It will also support GPs wishing to work part time or flexibly - for example, through annualised hours or term-time contracts.

The minister also launched a brochure selling medical careers to school leavers and extended NHS Careers - the Department of Health's telephone and web-based careers information and advice service, which has received around 100,000 calls in the last year from prospective nurses and other NHS staff - to cover medicine.

'We have more GPs in training than ever before. But we need to do more to make medical careers attractive, to improve retention so that fewer doctors leave having reached burn-out, and to improve the rate of conversion from finishing training to taking up post, 'Mr Hutton said. 'We must make it easier for GPs to fit work around family life, rather than the other way round.'

The DoH's latest GP vacancy survey, published last month, showed the average number of applicants per GP post dropped from 8.5 in 2000 to 4.4 in 2002.

The number of posts standing vacant for a year or more doubled from 50 in March 2001 to 102 in March 2002, with practices in urban deprived areas experiencing particular difficulties.