GP leaders expressed disappointment that the DH has no immediate plans in place to make changes to the specialist register, and urged ministers to reconsider 'for the sake of the future of general practice'.
Both the BMA and RCGP welcomed a GMC announcement last week that it would start work to merge the GP and specialist lists into a single 'senior register' – formally giving GPs equal status to consultants – provided the DH took necessary steps to pave the way for the move.
The DH and its equivalents in devolved nations must agree to reform the Medical Act before changes to the register can go ahead, the GMC said.
The GPC is now seeking a meeting with the DH to press for the registers to be merged.
The RCGP said merging the registers would 'send an important signal' that GPs are equal and as valued as other specialties at a time when there are 'huge shortages' across the country.
A DH spokeswoman said: ‘We recognise the outstanding role GPs play in delivering patient care in their unique position of often being the first point of contact a patient will have with the NHS.
‘Their training is no less rigorous than doctors working in the hospital setting and nor is their professional standing in the eyes of the public or the government.’
But the GPC said GPs were not universally perceived as equal to their hospital colleagues, and that unifying the register was important to ensure this was acknowledged by the media, in medical schools and on the international stage.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The DH is right to state that GPs have a very high standing in the eyes of the public but this is not always reflected in the attitudes of certain sections of the media, the relative status of GPs across Europe or stereotypes suggested to some medical students.
‘We hope the department will therefore give proper consideration to this serious proposal of placing GPs on the specialist register which has won support from the GMC, the RCGP and the BMA. This reform would be an important recognition of GPs skills and expertise at a time when they are working harder than ever before.
‘We will be seeking an opportunity to sit down with the department and other organisations to discuss how we achieve the aim of putting GPs on the specialist register.’
General practice at stake
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘GPs are highly trained medical professionals – experts in delivering whole person care to our patients, yet in the UK the role of the general practitioner is not included on the medical speciality register.
‘This simply serves to perpetuate an archaic and false perception that general practice is somehow a "lesser" speciality than other branches of medicine and that qualified GPs are not consultant level doctors – and it puts us at odds with many countries across Europe.
‘We were really encouraged to receive the backing from the GMC earlier this week that the GP and medical speciality registers should be merged – but then disappointed to hear that the DH have said that their official position is that there are no immediate plans to do this.
‘We currently have a huge shortage of family doctors across the country – and we don't nearly have enough medical students choosing general practice as a career. We should be pulling out all the stops to reverse these trends, and merging the two registers would send an important signal that GPs are equal and as valued as other medical specialities.
‘The college strongly urges the DH to reconsider its position – for the sake of the future of general practice, the wider NHS and patient care.’