Every A&E will have GPs on front door by Christmas, says Simon Stevens

Every hospital A&E department in England will have a GP triage service at its front door by Christmas, the NHS England chief executive has told MPs, as officials revealed a rise in applications for GP training.

Simon Stevens told MPs at an evidence session on GP access with the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC) on Thursday that NHS England would set a requirement for all hospitals with an A&E department to have 'comprehensive front-door screening with GPs by next Christmas'.

Health Education England's chief executive meanwhile struck a positive note on GP recruitment, telling MPs that applications for GP training posts in the first recruitment round this year were up 4.7% on last year.

Across England, 139 hospitals have major type 1 A&E departments according to figures published by the King's Fund think tank, defined as 'major A&E, providing a consultant-led 24-hour service'.

GP triage

Mr Stevens' comments came just 24 hours after chancellor Philip Hammond unveiled a £100m fund to pay for GP triage systems in A&E departments, prompting warnings from GPs that an already overstretched GP workforce would struggle to cope.

The NHS England chief executive told MPs this funding was 'a contribution' to establishing GP triage in A&E across England. The £100m would go to 'probably 50-100 hospitals that need remedial work or a bit of extra capacity creation', he said.

GPonline revealed yesterday that creating the A&E triage systems could require reconfiguration of other local primary care services, and that funding could be used to pay for temporary buildings to house the new service.

Mr Stevens said the £100m fund was 'a way of kickstarting a turnaround in A&E performance so that the NHS goes into the next winter in a better position', and that hospitals would set up services similar to 'the model that has been successful in places like Luton & Dunstable hospital'.

GP workforce

Asked about the GP workforce crisis, Health Education England chief executive Professor Ian Cumming told the PAC that doctors working in primary care were now choosing to work fewer hours, and acknowledged the impact of numbers of older GPs retiring.

But he told MPs: 'We have been successful in increasing the number of people coming into general practice training. This year we had 3,019, which is highest ever number of doctors choosing to train in general practice.'

He added: 'Round one has just closed in terms of GP applications for this year and that is 4.7% up on last year. So we are seeing continued progression in terms of the number of people wanting to work as GPs.'

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