GPs in training will receive a 'golden hello' of £20,000 if they start their careers in the countryside or on the coast in a bid to boost the number of family doctors in areas with difficulty recruiting.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to introduce a package of measures to help the struggling GP workforce.

This includes a one-off payment to try to entice 200 GPs who are beginning their careers to work in areas struggling to secure family doctors - such as rural practices and those by the seaside.

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From 2018, surgeries in hard to recruit to areas will benefit from the new £4 million scheme.

Addressing the Royal College of GPs annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Hunt will also announce plans for flexible working for older GPs to encourage them to stay in the workforce for longer before retiring.

Meanwhile, he will confirm plans for an overseas recruitment office which will try to lure GPs from countries outside Europe - particularly Australia - to come and work in England.

The Department of Health has also launched a consultation on the regulation of physician associates (PAs) to provide further clarity on the scope of the role.

It is hoped that these PAs - usually science graduates who have undergone two years of intensive training - can help support healthcare teams across the country.

But concerns have previously been raised over plans to use more PAs to perform medical duties including examining patients, diagnosing illnesses and analysing test results.

Leading medics have warned the new posts should not be used as a way of replacing doctors.

In his speech to delegates, Mr Hunt will also try to address one of the main concerns facing the GP workforce - the rising costs of indemnity.

Mr Hunt will signal plans for a new state-backed scheme for clinical negligence indemnity for general practice in England.

It is hoped that this would create a long-term solution to the increasing fees which are forcing doctors out of the profession, with the average medic now shelling out around £8,000 a year for clinical negligence indemnity cover.

The Government will work with medical defence organisations, the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association to come up with the "best way forward", a Department of Health spokeswoman said.

"Last month, the Care Quality Commission gave a glowing verdict on the state of general practice in England, but this should not distract us from the fact that the profession is under considerable pressure at the moment," Mr Hunt said.

"By introducing targeted support for vulnerable areas and tackling head-on critical issues such as higher indemnity fees and the recruitment and retention of more doctors, we can strengthen and secure general practice for the future.

"Our talented GP workforce is one of the reasons why we have the best healthcare system in the world, and our commitment of an additional £2.4 billion a year for primary care by 2021 will ensure this continues."

Professor Wendy Reid, director of education and quality at Health Education England, added: "We spend nearly £500 million a year on GP training. We are working closely with NHS England to provide 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020.

"More doctors than ever before are entering general practice and this is illustrated by the GP training fill rate figures for 2016 which, at 3,019, is the highest number ever."

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "We have an incredibly serious shortage of GPs right across the country, but there are some areas that struggle to recruit more than others and often they are in remote and rural areas, so this commitment to incentivise working in these areas is welcome.

"GPs and practice teams in remote and rural areas face unique challenges - but when the service is adequately resourced to meet patients' specific needs, they can also be fantastic and rewarding places to work.

"Ultimately we need NHS England's GP Forward View, which promises £2.4 billion extra for general practice a year and 5,000 more GPs by 2020, urgently and in full so that we can deliver the care our patients need and deserve wherever in the country they live."

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said: "General practice is facing unprecedented pressure from rising workload, stagnating budgets and a workforce crisis that has left many parts of the country without enough GPs to treat patients.

"These proposals do appear to acknowledge the specific problems facing rural areas in England. But 'golden hellos' are not a new idea and unlikely to solve the overall workforce crisis given we are failing badly to train enough GPs to meet current demands.

"There is already an incentive programme for 'hard to recruit areas' that has been operating since 2016 and it is not clear whether this new announcement, which comes without any real details, is any different from that scheme.

"The government is not on course to reach its target of 5,000 extra GPs by 2020. We need the government to commit to a long-term plan that gives general practice the resources it needs to deliver the service patients deserve."

He added: "On the announcement on indemnity, it is encouraging that the Secretary of State has recognised this unacceptable financial burden being placed on GPs.

"The commitment to provide state-backed indemnity cover is a particularly welcome step after the talks the government has been having directly with the BMA over the summer.

"We do, however, need more detail on the financing of this scheme and it must cover all GPs whether they are a partner, salaried, locum, prison or other GP. It is also important we make progress quickly and deliver real change."

Rebecca Rosen, senior policy fellow at think tank The Nuffield Trust, added: "With general practice under immense pressure and some areas of the country struggling to recruit any family doctors at all, this is a positive and much-needed boost to health care in rural areas.

"But attracting trainees is only half the battle: the NHS is struggling to hang on to qualified GPs, with surveys showing 56% plan to retire or leave practice early. Many trainees also drop out when they finish.

"Like many areas of the NHS, pressure of work, low morale and the impact of staff shortages is making it harder and harder to keep family doctors in practice. So the real test for this policy will be in ensuring trainee GPs tempted to work in these rural areas will stay."