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Government-commissioned report shows crisis in GP workforce

Report finds GP workforce is falling, not enough GPs are being recruited and many plan to leave or cut their hours

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The GP workforce is shrinking, efforts to recruit new GPs are failing and many existing GPs are planning on leaving the profession, the findings of a long-awaited Government-commissioned report has found.

Securing the Future GP Workforce - Delivering the Mandate on GP Expansion is the final report by the GP Taskforce, which was established by Medical Education England (MEE) and the Department of Health (DH) to recommend how to achieve the longstanding workforce target of 3,250 trainees entering GP training in England each year by 2015. Although dated March, the report has only just been made available.

The report says that recruitment has remained stubbornly below this target, at around 2,700 per annum, for the last four years. This shortfall compounded by increasing numbers of trained GPs leaving the workforce, most GPs approaching retirement and more female in their 30s who are likely to opt to reduce their hours as they have children. GP recruitment and retention varies around the country and is often worst in areas with the worst health outcomes.

The Taskforce report recommends an interim target of 3,050 GP training ST1 entry points for 2014 (an increase of 250) with a corresponding decrease of 250 hospital specialty training numbers and the final target of 3,250 GP training ST1 entry points achieved by 2015, requiring a further increase of 200 GP numbers and corresponding reduction of 200 hospital specialty training numbers.

The Taskforce also recommends research is undertaken to identify why doctors leave general practice early and what are the barriers to their returning to practice. It adds NHS England should consider the reintroduction of the Flexible Careers Scheme, and review whether the current employment model in general practice is fit for purpose for all career stages.

The Taskforce considers it unfortunate that whilst there has never been a greater need for information about GP activity and workload, the last national survey of GP workload was undertaken back in 2007, and there is no longer any national vacancy reporting. “We reconfirm the recommendation of the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) that the GP workload survey must be urgently re-commissioned, along with a more effective vacancy survey,” its report says.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “Following persistent pressure from the BMA, we are pleased that at long last the GP taskforce report that was finalised in March has been published. It not only provides a valuable summary of the serious challenges facing the GP workforce that the BMA has been highlighting for a number of years but also puts forward many of the solutions that we too have been calling for.

“We have reached a serious crisis point where not enough GPs are being recruited and too many are retiring early. Recent GP trainee recruitment figures showed hundreds of vacancies across the UK. A BMA survey in March suggested that six out of ten GP were considering early retirement, with a third actively planning for this decision.

“There is no longer any time to waste and the government needs to implement the findings of this report in full and begin a programme of sustained, long-term investment in the GP workforce as the BMA has called for in the Your GP Cares campaign.”

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