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Political pledges on GP numbers ‘will take decades’

RCGP calls on new government to deliver urgent package of measures to recruit and retain GPs

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 05 May 2015

A new analysis by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) reveals that patients will have to wait until 2045 for the 8,000 extra GPs promised by Labour and UKIP in their manifestos. And it will take until 2034 to realise the 5,000 more family doctors proposed at the Conservative Party conference.

The College is calling on whichever party or parties win the election next Thursday to introduce an urgent package of measures to recruit new GPs, retain existing family doctors and encourage those who have taken a career break to return to the profession.

Meanwhile a new opinion poll of 1,000 people in key marginal constituencies, also commissioned by the RCGP, reveals that almost nine in 10 cite protecting GP services as a high priority for political parties ahead of the election – and half of those surveyed (50%) anticipate that they will have to wait longer for a GP appointment over the next two years, with just 4% believing that waiting times will get shorter.

Carried out by ComRes, the poll surveyed adults in the top 40 marginal constituencies in England – where the Conservative and Labour parties shared first and second place at the 2010 Election – about their views and experiences of general practice.

Of these, 89% said that they believed protecting local GP services should be a ‘very high’ or ‘fairly high’ priority for the competing political parties.

When asked about patient safety, 60% of adults were concerned that GPs routinely making between 40-60 patient contacts a day was a threat to the standard of care they can provide.

Professor Nigel Mathers, RCGP Honorary Secretary, said: “It is excellent that Labour, UKIP and the Conservatives have all recognised the urgent need to increase the size of the GP workforce, especially with Labour and UKIP both pledging to meet our ask that the workforce is expanded by 8,000 doctors by 2020.

“However, while both the numerical targets announced by the parties are achievable, both a Labour-led or a Conservative-led government would need to introduce an emergency package of measures, immediately after the election, otherwise the future government would risk missing its targets by many, many years.

“Whoever is in power, ministers will urgently need to rebalance the number of training places towards general practice by reducing the historic excess of training posts available in some hospital-based specialties; provide financial and other incentives – such as grants that can be used to pay off student loans – to newly qualified GPs if they agree to train and practise in under-doctored or deprived areas; and encouraging existing family doctors to stay in practice, by cutting the red tape in the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) and reviewing the bureaucracy of the CQC inspection regime."

Prof Mathers added that any emergency package must dovetail with the 10-point plan to boost the GP workforce that was launched in January by the RCGP, NHS England, Health Education England, and the BMA.

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