TerenceAfter countless exams, lectures and placements, having your name added to the Medical Register is a cause for celebration. Sadly, not long after this proud moment has passed, what should be an exciting time for medical graduates is often marred by a barrage of bills.

I was taken aback by these costs when I qualified in 1983. Back then, though, we weren’t charged tuition fees. It’s even tougher for graduates these days.

Most doctors will find their first few years in the profession the most financially challenging. According to the NHS Pay and Conditions Circular, first year foundation doctors earn £26,614 per year, while second year foundation doctors earn £30,805, with additional allowances for on-call and weekend work. And they’re continuing to pay for further exams. I hear about these concerns when I’m out talking to colleagues and friends through my work as a consultant. These views have also been shared with us by those representing doctors in training.

Which is why I’m pleased we can do something to help. In April 2018 we will change our fee model, so that newly qualified doctors will pay less than those who have been practising for some time. It’s important that we offer financial support at this early stage, as well as the support we provide to protect the quality of doctors’ training.

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Newly qualified doctors will receive a fixed-term discount from 1 April 2018. Those eligible from the beginning could save over £1000 – you can find out more about how much you’ll save on our website.

Every doctor on the register will benefit

On top of this, all doctors who have been fully registered for more than five years will save £35 on their annual retention fee, meaning they’ll pay £390 instead of £425 from April 2018. This means every doctor on the register will benefit from these reductions.

We’re well positioned to offer these reductions after making significant savings since 2015, which has included the relocation of around 130 jobs from London to Manchester.

It’s only right that we pass these savings on to doctors.

A proactive approach to regulation

I want to assure you that our careful stewardship of our finances will continue. Where we can make further savings, we will.

To do this without increasing our fees, we need more flexibility in how we carry out our work, particularly our investigations of complaints which account for about 55% of our budget.

We’ve made some progress with this. In 2016 we reduced the number of full investigations through a number of reforms, including using more early stage filtering – known as making ‘provisional enquiries’ – to quickly identify less serious complaints (such as those involving one-off clinical mistakes).  This has allowed us to reduce the stress on patients and doctors, focus on more serious cases and ultimately reduce costs – our expenditure on fitness to practise was £2.8 million under budget in 2016.

To really modernise the way that we carry out investigations – and put your annual fee to much better use – we need to be given more discretion and flexibility. This can’t happen without a change in the outdated and highly prescriptive law which rigidly controls so many aspects of how we work.  The Government is currently consulting on changes to the regulation of healthcare professionals. Once that consultation closes in January, we hope they’ll quickly bring forward plans to update our legislation.

Moving forward, we want to change our emphasis and boost our support for all doctors to help them provide good care for patients. We’ll make that commitment in our new three-year strategy which we’ll publish in early 2018.

We will be working more proactively to help prevent doctors from getting involved in the fitness to practise process in the first place, by investing more in our support teams in England and across the UK along with tools to help doctors understand and apply our guidance.

We believe this will lead to better outcomes for both doctors and patients.