Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a £1 million pilot scheme to encourage GPs nearing retirement to stay in practice by increasing work flexibility and variety.

Data shows that the number of GPs who are over 55 years old leaving the profession has risen over the last 10 years.

NHS England says that research it has commissioned suggests that experienced GPs may remain practising if there was an opportunity to work more flexibly.

The 12-month GP Career Plus scheme pilot will launch next next year to test a range of ways to offer such flexibility and support for experienced GPs at risk of leaving general practice.

The scheme will look to recruit up to 80 experienced GPs at risk of leaving the profession across 10 pilot areas, who could: provide clinical capacity for practices to cover vacancies, annual leave, parental leave and sick cover; carry out specific types of work e.g. long-term conditions or home visits; and provide leadership through clinical training, individual mentoring and coaching, innovation and change leadership, support for practices in crisis or in under-doctored areas.

"GPs have a wealth of experience and local knowledge, and we want to make it easier for those who choose to carry on working in a way that suits them, and benefits their local patients and colleagues. GP Career Plus will provide them with the flexibility they have been asking for to carry on working or help to train the next generation, all to contribute to our plan for a world class GP service," said Hunt, as reported by GP Online.

Commenting on the launch of the scheme, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "It's encouraging to see the Secretary of State recognising the importance of retaining GPs in the workforce, and taking heed of our recommendations for how to tackle this".

"We currently have a severe shortage of family doctors, and however many more we recruit, if there are more leaving the profession than are entering it, we are fighting a losing battle.

"The opportunity for more options and flexibility for experienced GPs, particularly those who might be considering leaving the profession, so that our patients can continue to benefit from their expert skills – and newer GPs can continue to learn from them – is excellent. We look forward to seeing how it works in practice and hopefully, if successful, it can be rolled out further."