'Aspirational' GP trainee uptake target unlikely to be met, says GPC

Health Education England (HEE) is unlikely to hit its government-mandated target of boosting GP trainee numbers to 3,250 by 2016, despite a third application phase for trainees, a GPC member has warned.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni: GP recruitment target unlikely to be met (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni: GP recruitment target unlikely to be met (Photo: JH Lancy)

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chairman of the GPC’s education, training and workforce subcommittee, said it was ‘unlikely’ that HEE would hit the 3,250 target under ‘the current atmosphere of decreased funding and increased workload for GPs’.

The target will remain aspirational 'unless something dramatic happens to curtail workload', he added. He warned that if the trainees who apply during the third round would have applied the next year anyway, the scheme would not successfully boost GP numbers.

His comments come shortly after HEE announced it would once again run a third round of recruitment  to fill posts left empty after the first two rounds, a measure it implemented for the first time last year. A spokeswoman said it was still 'on track' to hit the 2016 target.

Despite efforts to improve uptake, the number of GP trainee posts filled has consistently remained at around 2,600-2,700 over the past five years, despite more posts being made available over the same period.

In 2009, 2,626 posts out of 2,719 (97%) in England were filled, compared to 2,688 out of 3,067 (88%) in 2014, according to figures obtained by GPonline.

GP workload

‘It certainly is still a desperate move,’ Dr Kasaraneni said, echoing comments made about last year's unprecedented third round. ‘My understanding from last year is that, yes it has attracted some trainees but nowhere near as many as they were expecting.

‘We would certainly encourage any move to improve recruitment. But the GPC’s position has always been if you adjust the workload, workforce will follow.

‘The big underlying problem with GP recruitment is the fact that workload for GPs still isn’t manageable, so the rhetoric that comes out from GPs to trainees isn’t a positive one and therefore people aren’t considering it.

‘Round three – is it going to make a huge difference? I suspect not. Is it worth trying, could the resources be better spent elsewhere? I think only the results will show it one way or the other.

‘We’re certainly working with HEE to promote general practice as a speciality. But promoting it as a specialty and a career are two different things. We can only start promoting general practice as a career when we know for a fact that doctors can flourish in general practice and funding is right so that workload can be controlled a little bit more.’

GP trainee posts

A spokeswoman for HEE maintained that it was ‘on track’ to achieve the target.

‘The work of HEE sits at the very heart of the government’s plans to boost the number of GPs,’ she said. ‘The overall number of GPs is increasing and we are also on track to provide 3,250 training places a year by 2016. Our workforce planning forecasts take into account a variety of factors such as attrition and expected retirement rates.

‘HEE is looking at encouraging doctors to train in areas where it has traditionally been difficult to recruit GPs. This will be through offering pre-GP training and additional training post-GP in areas like psychiatry and paediatrics.

‘We held a third round of recruitment last year, helping us to fill more posts, and it makes sense to do this again to help increase the numbers of doctors in general practice and further improve services for patients.’

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