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Hunt admits weaker target for 5,000 more GPs

5,000 more GPs is a ‘maximum’ ideal but not guaranteed

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted that the government’s target to recruit 5,000 more GPs over the next five years is an ideal “maximum” number that may not be achieved.

Doctors’ leaders said the admission that plans to grow the workforce were not a firm target showed the government accepted how difficult it would be to boost GP numbers in the current climate.

Last week, Mr Hunt announced a ‘new deal for GPs’ involving promises to recruit 10,000 extra primary care staff, including 5,000 GPs and a national marketing campaign to encourage medical students to choose general practice, if GPs signed-up to seven-day opening.

However, speaking yesterday at the Commissioning 2015 conference being held in London, Mr Hunt said the government accepted there was a lack of capacity in general practice.

“I talked about recruiting 5,000 more GPs on Friday,” he said. “In truth we think that that is the maximum that we would be able to increase the GP workforce by over the next five years given the time it takes to train new GPs, given the potential number we could persuade to come back into the profession.”

The BMA said the comments showed the government viewed the 5,000 target as a maximum possible figure rather than a firm target.

Its GP committee chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “Increasing the number of GPs entering the workforce is vital at a time of rising patient demand from an ageing population and more care being moved into the community from hospitals.

“But we do need to be realistic about the number of GPs we can recruit in a short timeframe.

“Delivering 5,000 extra GPs in five years when training a GP takes 10 years was a practical impossibility that was never going to be achieved. It was a pledge that also ignored the fact that one third of GPs are planning to retire by 2020 and that current medical graduates do not want to join an overworked, underfunded service, with more than 400 GP trainee posts left unfilled last year.”

Pressure from the BMA had meant that the health secretary was beginning to accept the need to be more realistic about GP recruitment, he added.

“With such a limited workforce he now needs to rethink his plans for seven day services which cannot be practically delivered with the current shrinking number of GPs.”

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