All 265 TERS places were filled in 2018/19 - the first time the scheme has managed 100% uptake.
Just 133 posts were filled in 2017/18 - 93% of the total available - and 122 in 2016/17, NHS England has revealed. This means that more than 500 GPs have taken up posts in 23 hard-to-recruit areas - including Cumbria, Blackpool, Doncaster and Hull - since the TERS was launched three years ago.
Under the scheme, trainees commit to working in their assigned area for three years in return for a £20,000 NHS-funded ‘golden hello’ - paid at the start of their placement.
Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s acting director of primary care, said: ‘Although overall recruitment of GPs is increasing, in some parts of England a significant proportion of GP training places have been unfilled. This scheme helps relieve pressure on general practices facing the most severe recruitment challenges, thereby supporting and improving services in these areas over time.’
However, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard warned that - so long as more GPs were leaving the workforce than entering it - the NHS would be ‘fighting a losing battle’.
‘It’s really excellent to see that initiatives aimed at getting GPs into under-doctored areas are working. This will be to the benefit of practices, the wider NHS, and patients in the area – and we want to see far more initiatives like this,’ Professor Stokes-Lampard said.
‘There is some really good work being done by NHS England and Health Education England, supported by the college and others, to boost recruitment in general practice and we now have more GPs in training than ever before. But it takes a long time to train a GP and when we have more GPs leaving the profession than entering it, we’re fighting losing battle.’
The GP Forward View (GPFV), published in 2016, pledged to recruit an additional 5,000 GPs into the workforce by 2020/21. Yet, despite a record number of GP trainees being recruited in 2018, there are currently fewer full-time equivalent GPs working now than there were two years ago.
Professor Stokes-Lampard added: ‘As well as continuing the great work that is going on to recruit more GPs, as part of the forthcoming workforce strategy, we need to see equivalent efforts being implemented to keep existing GPs doing what they do best – delivering frontline patient care. Taking steps to reduce workload to make working in general practice more sustainable and removing incentives to retire early for GPs who might not necessarily want to would both be sensible places to start.’
NHS England has promised a 'wide range' of new workforce incentives to promote generalism and address geographical GP shortages over the next 10 years as part of the NHS long-term plan.
This includes a ‘shift from a dominance of highly specialised roles to a better balance with more generalist ones’ in medical training and the introduction of a two-year GP fellowship scheme.
As well as recruiting more GPs, NHS England plans to grow the number of allied health professionals (AHPs) working in general practice under the long-term plan - including clinical pharmacists, paramedics and advanced nurse practitioners.
Full details of the wider workforce reforms will be published later this year.