GP shortage threatens NHS integration plans, think-tank warns

The GP workforce crisis poses a serious risk to plans to move more care out of hospitals and threatens the health service's capacity to deliver integration plans, according to the King's Fund.

Consultation room: GP shortage threat to services (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)
Consultation room: GP shortage threat to services (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

A report on NHS workforce by the health think-tank called for a national strategy to tackle NHS workforce problems.

The dwindling supply of GPs combined with low morale put at risk government and NHS England plans for integration of services around out-of-hospital care, it said.

Evidence of low morale pointed to ‘a profession increasingly perceived as unattractive by medical trainees as well as existing GPs’, the report said.

While the total number of full-time GPs increased by 2.3% between 2010 and 2013, the ‘rate of increase will not even come close to meeting future demand’, the think-tank noted, citing Health Education England research.

Map: where are GP shortages worst?

The RCGP has estimated a fourfold increase in unfilled posts since 2010.

The report said: ‘These figures call into question the current and future capacity of general practice to deliver new models of care outlined in Transforming Primary Care or the Five Year Forward View. Yet in some respects this is unsurprising; despite longstanding commitments to enhance primary care, there has been no clear attempt to rebalance the workforce into primary care settings; instead, general practice has drifted into crisis.’

The authors called for better intelligence on workforce requirements, more co-ordinated national leadership on recruitment and workforce management, a better assessment of the current state of supply and demand, and greater consistency between national strategy and workforce supply.

Flexible GP workforce

King’s Fund senior research fellow Rachael Addicott said the workforce is a key asset for the NHS.

‘We need the right people in the right place, able to adapt their skills to changing demographics and work together to support new models of care. However the trends we are seeing are moving in the opposite direction.’

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said the report ‘hammers home our warnings about the severe shortage of GPs and the urgent need to build the general practice workforce’.

She said: ‘For too long, general practice and filling GP vacancies have taken a back seat in order to shore up other parts of the health service, when the reverse should be happening.

‘We are pleased that the King’s Fund acknowledges the college’s efforts to redress this imbalance – including initiatives such as introducing pharmacists to the practice team and our 10-point plan to build the GP workforce, launched earlier this year with NHS England, Health Education England and the BMA. But we desperately need long-term investment.’

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