RCGP calls out closure of national retention schemes

The RCGP has written to the CEO of NHS England and the Minister with responsibility for Primary Care to express concern over the closure of the national NHS England General Practice Fellowship and the Supporting Mentors schemes during a workforce crisis for general practice. 

Current plans are for retention schemes to be devolved to ICSs at a time when local budgets are tighter than ever. The letter, sent jointly from the RCGP’s Chair of Council, First 5 Committee Chair, and AiT Committee Chair makes clear the College’s concern that this could lead to the loss of even more GPs, while workloads continue to rise.

To Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive Officer, NHS England, and  Andrea Leadsom, Minister for Public Health, Start for Life and Primary Care, 

We are writing on behalf of our members to ask for your urgent support to prevent more GPs from quitting general practice. As you will know, general practice has been delivering more care than ever, with a record 356 million appointments in 2023 – 14% more than in 2019, but with 642 fewer fully-qualified, full-time equivalent GPs in the workforce. This is not sustainable.  

GPs play a crucial and unique role in managing the increasingly complex health needs of local populations. They supervise, lead and work within multidisciplinary teams, delivering vast amounts of care. We know that many patients are struggling to get the care they need and that GPs want to provide, and the workforce is increasingly facing burnout. With College research showing that one in three GPs say they are considering leaving the profession in the next five years, if we don't act now, the NHS will be facing an even worse crisis.  

We are particularly concerned with the recent closure of the national NHS England General Practice Fellowship and the Supporting Mentors schemes, and the move to devolve decisions about the future of these programmes to individual ICSs, along with the shift of any associated budgets into their baselines.    

These schemes have been shown to play a vital role in supporting early career GPs to remain in the profession, with over 80% of those surveyed by NHS England saying the Fellowship scheme supported them to remain as a GP. With one in five GPs under 30 quitting the profession last year, we need to be doing absolutely everything we can to keep GPs, at all stages of their careers, in the workforce, so they can continue to deliver care for patients. Training a doctor from medical school to the end of GP specialty training has been estimated to cost nearly £500,000. Losing any GP from the NHS workforce earlier than planned is a major loss of investment, and to patient care.  

Plans to devolve budgets and responsibilities to ICSs for GP retention initiatives will only work if there are sufficient and ringfenced finances. However, retention scheme budgets are often the first to be squeezed when ICS budgets are tight – and last November, ICSs were told to "reprioritise" budgets away from some retention schemes to deal with wider financial challenges.  

We are asking the Government to ensure that every GP who needs support to remain in the NHS receives it, with ringfenced funding and continued monitoring of retention initiatives if devolved to ICSs. Without these actions, we risk losing more GPs from the workforce, and patients will increasingly struggle to get the care they really need.  

  • Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Dr Toyosi Adeniji - Chair of the First5 Network
  • Dr Akram Hussain - Chair of the AiT (Associates in Training) Network

Further information

RCGP press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editors

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.