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General practice teaching for medical students 'in decline'

RCGP slams findings as 'outrageous' given the expectations placed on general practice

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

GP leaders have reacted angrily to new research which reveals that the amount of time medical students are being taught in general practice is decreasing.

The research*, published in the British Journal of General Practice today, reveals that GP based teaching for medical students increased from <1.0% of clinical teaching in 1968 to 13.0% by 2008. But since then, the percentage has plateaued. The total amount of general practice teaching per student has fallen by 2 weeks since 2002.

The authors Drs Alex Harding, Joe Rosenthal, Marwa Al-Seaidy, Denis Pereira Gray, and Robert K McKinley who are all GPs, say that the findings are more striking given the increased pressures being placed on general practice, moves to transfer more services to the community, and that the Department of Health recommends that 50% of all medical students should train for general practice.

The report’s authors conclude: "Current levels of undergraduate teaching in general practice are too low to fulfil future workforce requirements and may be falling. Financial support for current teaching is disproportionately low and the mechanism counterproductive. Central intervention may be required to solve this."

RCGP chair Professor Maureen Baker said: “It is astonishing and outrageous that the proportion of time spent in general practice placements is actually falling, given the importance of the profession and medical generalism in the NHS.

“All medical schools have a responsibility to promote the opportunities and challenges of a career as a GP. They receive public money and should therefore contribute to the production of a balanced workforce.”

She said that the clinical budget allocated to fund teaching in general practice is "so miniscule" that perhaps it is not surprising that newly-qualified doctors often have unfounded poor perceptions of general practice as a medical career and may view it as a second-best choice.

“But a career as a GP is stimulating and challenging – it is the only role in the NHS that cares for people over their lifetime.

“After years of under-investment in general practice and a focus on hospital care, there is now a real push do deliver a new deal for general practice, with initiatives such as our 10-point plan with NHS England, Health Education England and the BMA for more resources into general practice and to build the GP workforce.”

Professor Baker said that the RCGP is pleased to be working with the Medical Schools Council to encourage more positive attitudes towards general practice in universities.

“We must all join forces to ‘recruit retain and return’ as many GPs as possible to the profession in order to keep the NHS sustainable and keep our patients safe.”

* Alex Harding, et al. Provision of medical student teaching in UK general practices: a cross-sectional questionnaire study. British Journal of General Practice, 2015. DOI: 10.3399/bjgp15X685321

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