All three major UK-wide parties promised more GPs in the 2015 election, which saw health campaigning dominated by plans for primary care.
The Conservatives under David Cameron pledged to recruit 5,000 extra doctors in primary care by 2020 compared with 2014, a promise criticised as unrealistic by GPs at the time. The RCGP predicted the pledge could take 19 years to achieve.
Commentators have predicted the party under Theresa May could abandon some difficult commitments inherited from the previous regime.
Shortly after the surprise 2015 victory, re-appointed health secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted he was ‘not expecting to win the election’, before he went on to soften the 5,000 GPs target from a minimum to ‘the maximum’ achievable.
With polls predicting an increased majority for the Tories in June and the next parliament set to be dominated by Brexit, the party is expected to write a less ambitious manifesto.
The promise to recruit an additional 5,000 GPs, which now forms part of NHS England’s GP Forward View, was dealt a fresh blow last month when figures showed the workforce had shrunk by 445 in the last quarter of 2016.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that whoever wins in June it was ‘essential’ for the next government ‘to take seriously the workforce and workload crisis in general practice’.
‘We not only need more GPs to respond to the growing needs of our patients, but if we are to deal with the unsafe workload pressures that are driving GPs away and putting off young doctors choosing general practice as a career’, said Dr Vautrey. ‘It’s also imperative that we expand the general practice workforce, with both clinicians and support staff.’
Dr Vautrey added: ‘‘This will be fundamental for the future sustainability of the NHS and will need clear funding commitments to make it a reality. If we are to emulate the best in Europe then we also need to match or exceed their health and social care funding and all parties should be clear in this aspiration.’
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was ‘critical’ a Brexit-dominated election campaign did not ignore the ‘harsh realities regarding an NHS that is not sustainable on current levels of funding’.
'It is vital that all of us - GPs on the ground - play our part to ensure through MPs and patients that we raise the profile of the NHS as a central issue’ said Dr Nagpaul.
The GPC would continue to push for implementation of the GP Forward View, added Dr Nagpaul, throughout the election campaign period. ‘The election should not detract from NHS England's responsibilities,' he said.