‘5,000 GPs must be trained each year’

Author: Jo Carlowe
‘5,000 GPs must be trained each year’

Some 5,000 GPs need to be trained each year to meet government targets.

This message comes from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), which, this week, spelled out the requirements needed to safeguard patient care.

Currently, there are 3,500 placements for GP training a year - and this year, more junior doctors have chosen to specialise in general practice than ever before - but the College says these numbers must increase to at least 5,000 a year as soon as possible, to meet government targets to increase the workforce by at least 5,000 full-time equivalent GPs. Moreover, the RCGP says for this to come to fruition, it must be appropriately funded.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair, has written to chief secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak, urging him to use the forthcoming Spending Review to boost the budget for education and training of GPs and other healthcare professionals by at least 3.6% – amounting to an immediate increase of £160m.

“The Interim People Plan set out laudable aspirations on the development of the NHS workforce, but we are deeply concerned that current levels of funding are not sufficient to deliver this,” Professor Stokes-Lampard wrote.

Money for Health Education England’s education and training budget is not included in the £20.5bn extra a year promised in the NHS Long Term Plan.

She also called on Mr Sunak to address “woefully insufficient” funds allocated to encourage existing GPs to remain in the workforce, writing: “It is crucial that more is done to retain the hardworking GPs we currently have. There has been some success with locally funded GP retention schemes, but the £13m currently allocated is woefully insufficient... expanding the local funding for GP retainer schemes by an additional £72m could have a significant effect in preventing much needed experienced GPs leaving general practice.”

The latest figures from NHS Digital, published last week, showed that the number of fully-qualified, full-time equivalent GPs fell by 576 in the year from June 2018-June 2019.

Referring to the prime minister’s inaugural speech in July, Professor Stokes-Lampard’s letter concluded: “If the new government is to deliver on its promise to increase access to general practice for millions of patients across the country, it must use the forthcoming Spending Review, as well as future reviews, to provide the funding boost that those training and working in general practice and the wider NHS need to deliver aspirations of the NHS Long Term Plan and the forthcoming NHS People Plan.”

Commenting further, Professor Stokes-Lampard, said: “General practice keeps the NHS afloat by making the vast majority of patient contacts for a modest share of the overall funding – this alleviates pressures in hospitals, and keeps our health service sustainable.

“But GPs and our teams are facing intense resource and workforce pressures – and it is causing a growing crisis in our patients’ access to general practice services, which the prime minister pledged to address when he took up office.

“We desperately need thousands more GPs but despite great and successful efforts to boost recruitment, more family doctors are leaving the profession that entering it.”

She added: “We need to think big, and based on current workforce trends, the College estimates that we need to start training at least 5,000 GPs every year to meet the government’s overall target to expand the GP workforce by 5000 full-time GPs, over the next few years. We also need to tackle unfair underfunding of undergraduate teaching, and discrepancies around how undergraduate placements in general practice are funded compared to in secondary care.

“We know that many junior doctors want to be GPs, and we are confident that we could fill these places – but this needs to be funded, which is why we have written to the chief secretary to the Treasury, urging him to set the wheels in motion now so that this can become a reality in the foreseeable future.”

Professor Stokes-Lampard also stressed the need for more people to enter medical school, adding: “we want at least 50% of them choosing general practice.”