GPC slams political parties' failure to explain GP recruitment pledges

Political leaders have failed to explain how they intend to tackle the GP workforce crisis, the GPC has said.

Andy Burnham, Jeremy Hunt and Norman Lamb (left to right): health debate (Photos: JH Lancy and Charlie MacDonald)
Andy Burnham, Jeremy Hunt and Norman Lamb (left to right): health debate (Photos: JH Lancy and Charlie MacDonald)

Health spokesmen for the main parties ‘ducked’ questions about how they intend to increase GP numbers if their party wins the election next month, GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said, calling the parties' failure to provide answers ‘very disappointing’.

Health spokesmen for the main parties were quizzed by health and care leaders at a debate at the British Library on Tuesday.

GPC member Dr Rob Barnett asked how the political parties intend to find the new GPs they have promised.

Labour has pledged 8,000 new GPs, while the coalition parties plan to increase the workforce by 5,000.

Exciting GP roles

Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt said medical school graduates need to see that general practice is the ‘most exciting’ part of the NHS to be in. The service, he said, would see the biggest transformation as GPs take the lead role in a more preventative NHS.

‘The most important point of attraction of being a GP is the fact you are seeing the same patient over very many years, you develop a personal relationship with the patient and their family,’ said Mr Hunt. ‘We have undermined that over decades, particularly with the 2004 contract that got rid of personal responsibility for patients by GPs, and I want to bring that back. And that is the way we will make general practice once again a really rewarding profession.’

The coalition had increased GP numbers by 5%, Mr Hunt said. ‘We are getting more GPs into the system. We need to go a lot further. That's why our vision is that general practice will be transformed over the next five years.’

General practice 'broken'

Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb said the current model of general practice was ‘somewhat broken’. ‘You have got to try and make the role of the GP more attractive for trainee doctors,’ he said.

Mr Lamb said he wanted a more integrated service with GPs working more closely with other parts of the NHS to help relieve pressure.

Labour’s Andy Burnham said he was ‘under no illusion’ about the scale of problems in general practice. ‘Reforms that were meant to put the GPs at the heart of the NHS have left the profession utterly demoralised and voting with their feet,’ he said.

‘Part of turning it around is giving younger doctors different models in which to work. Working within integrated care organisations. Working within the community and hospital.’

Lack of detail

But Dr Nagpaul slammed the politicians’ failure to provide any detail. ‘Politicians have ducked the question: how they will implement their pledges to increase the numbers of GPs,' he said. ‘It is very disappointing that we again heard about ambitions with none of the parties having any response to a simple question about how they would reverse the downward spiral of recruitment and retention.’

Latest training uptake figures, said Dr Nagpaul, showed places were still unfilled, while a recent BMA survey showed one in three GPs could retire in the next five years. ‘Even if it was possible to magic up these GPs they wouldn't even replace the ones leaving.'

Dr Nagpaul attacked the parties’ ‘regressive’ access policies. Tory plans for a seven-day service and Labour’s pledge for a 48-hour and same-day appointment guarantee are ‘diametrically opposite’ to the transformation which could solve the workforce crisis, Dr Nagpaul said.

‘What is really crucial for an incoming government is to value our core work, and to support it. The rest of the system will benefit from resourcing the core work of GPs, to provide quality consultations with time for patients with complex needs,’ said Dr Nagpaul. ‘That doesn't sound exciting, but that will achieve the most effective results for general practice: to give us the time to do our jobs properly.’ 

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