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GP leader urges Hunt to keep fighting for GP workforce boost

Hunt admits 5,000 more GP target is difficult

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 07 June 2018

GP leaders are urging the government to keep on fighting to meet its target to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020, despite new admissions that this is highly unlikely to happen on time.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper published today, health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt appears to admit for the first time that the target of recruiting 5,000 additional GPs – first announced in 2015 – is unlikely to be met.

Mr Hunt said in the interview: “We do need 5,000 more GPs and we are struggling to deliver that pledge, but I’m absolutely determined to do so because GPs are working incredibly hard; too hard.

“I got quite widely ridiculed when I made the pledge in 2015. I wanted to nail my colours to the mast of getting more GPs into the system. But it has been harder than we thought.”

Reasons why this pledge had proved so difficult to deliver, he added, included the numbers of GPs retiring early in their 50s and 60s.

“This is not a pledge that we’re abandoning because it’s a very, very important pledge for the NHS and with general practice. It’s just taking a bit longer than I had hoped,” he said.

The lack of staff in the NHS was “the biggest priority” the government had for the health service and he underlined his support for a long-term funding settlement for the NHS to allow it to recruit more staff to help deal with the extra need for care.

In the interview, Mr Hunt also said that prime minister Theresa May was discussing giving the NHS a “significant increase” in its budget, tied into the health service’s 70th birthday in July, but he would not give more precise details.

“I’ve been making the NHS’s case that we need significant and sustainable funding increases to meet the demographic challenges we face, and the prime minister completely appreciates that,” he said to The Guardian.

“Now the economy is back on its feet and growing much more healthily, we’re able to have a discussion for the first time about [a] significant increase in resources, and that presents enormous opportunity for the country in terms of the type of NHS that our children and grandchildren will experience.”

Responding to the interview, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: “It is becoming abundantly clear, with GP numbers in England dropping, that efforts to build the profession by 5,000 GPs by 2020 are not working fast enough.

“The health secretary has now recognised this publicly for the first time, but it is essential that he does not give up on this much-needed target, but implements new, innovative measures to meet it.

“We know that we have more GPs in training than ever before, but it takes many years to train a GP. We need to concentrate on retaining our experienced family doctors in the profession so that patients can benefit from their expertise, and newer GPs can learn from them – and we need to start by tackling workload in general practice that has escalated both in volume and complexity in recent years, and the unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy that GPs are increasingly having to deal with.”

Picture credit: NHS confederation, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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