Solving inequities in provider distribution: loan repayment


B. Sibbald Professor of Health Services Research National Primary Care Research and Development Centre 5th Floor Williamson Building University of Manchester Oxford Road Manchester M13 9 PL UK E-mail:


The distribution of primary health care professionals in England and Wales is inequitable, with relatively lower concentrations of professionals in deprived areas. The objective of the present study was to determine whether graduate health professionals would be willing to work in under-served areas in return for educational loan repayment. The study group consisted of a convenience sample of 50 newly qualified and trainee general practitioners, and 50 newly qualified community nurses and health visitors in mid- and west Wales. At interview, the subjects were presented with descriptions of general practices and asked to indicate their preferred practice. Practice descriptions varied systematically in terms of location (i.e. urban, suburban and rural), population deprivation (i.e. deprived or mixed affluent/deprived) and availability of loan repayment (i.e. none or loans paid off over a period of between one and 4 years). The main outcome was the probability that a practice with loan repayment was chosen. Compared with a suburban practice, a one-year loan repayment option made the rural and urban deprived practices 1.6 times and 1.2 times more likely to be chosen, respectively. Nurses were generally more willing than doctors to work in a deprived area in return for loan repayment. The findings suggest that loan repayment may offset health professionals’ aversion to working in deprived areas. Such a scheme needs to be piloted to see whether it does offer value for money in recruiting health professionals to under-served areas.