In board papers published last week, HEE officials said: ‘There is a risk that HEE will not be able to attract sufficient trainees into GP training to meet mandate requirements.'
A table included in the board papers codes the risk red for being ‘likely’ to occur and for having a potentially ‘major’ impact.
HEE's mandate for 2015/16 orders it to 'ensure a minimum of 3,250 trainees per year (equating to approximately half of the annual number of trainees completing foundation training and moving into specialisations) are recruited to GP training programmes in England by 2016'.
NHS England's mandate sets a goal of recruiting 5,000 additional GPs by 2020, a target it says will be met in association with HEE.
The admission that recruitment targets could slip comes just weeks after HEE told MPs in December that it was set to exceed the target and boost GP numbers by 5,381 in its ‘worst case scenario’.
GP trainee target risk
HEE board papers said it had taken a range of mitigating actions to help avoid missing the target, including forming a GP recruitment 2016 Task and Finish Group, introducing a third round of recruitment, offering hard-to-fill bursaries and improving international recruitment efforts.
It is currently developing post CCT Fellowship models, which will provide GPs with improved opportunities for development in consultancy, research, leadership or emergency medicine.
Recruitment for the first round of GP recruitment this year – for the August intake – is currently underway. HEE has indicated that it will not hold a third recruitment round again this year, following two years of doing so with lacklustre results.
The third round last year saw a total of 180 GP trainees recruited, who will have started work in their posts this month.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said it had been ‘blindingly obvious’ that the target was unlikely to be met.
‘Nobody will be surprised whatsoever by this,’ he told GPonline. ‘Until we see a real commitment from the government and NHS England for a sustainable future for general practice, doctors won't choose general practice as their career and older doctors will continue to retire as soon as they can.
‘It will end up in a spiral of decline if we’re not careful, because the remaining workforce pressures are borne by fewer and fewer GPs, and that then pushes them to the brink of stress and burnout.
‘Ultimately, NHS England and the government must properly fund general practice so that practices can expand their teams as much as possible with nurses, pharmacists, healthcare assistants and others. This will send a clear signal to younger doctors that general practice is the place to make their commitment and we can start to turn the tide in terms of recruitment and retention.’
An HEE spokeswoman said: 'We need to be able to flag risks to our exec team, hence this being on the most up to date board paper – but it also states the work being done to mitigate against this risk.
'Through the work of the ten-point plan HEE is working with partners, including NHS England, the RCGP and the GPC, to increase numbers of GPs and make sure we have a skilled, trained and motivated workforce.
'HEE is leading on some of the key aspects of the plan including promoting general practice, improving the breadth of training, training hubs, new ways of working (increasing multi-professions) and the induction and refresher scheme.'