DH taskforce demands urgent action to tackle GP workforce crisis

General practice is close to a collapse that would put 'unmanageable pressure' on the rest of the NHS, amid a workforce crisis triggered by early retirements and a slump in GP recruitment, a DH taskforce has warned.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey: urgent action required (Photo: JH Lancy)
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey: urgent action required (Photo: JH Lancy)

Securing the Future GP Workforce, a report by a taskforce commissioned by the DH and NHS Education England, warned that ‘there is a GP workforce crisis which must be addressed immediately even to sustain the present role of general practice in the NHS, let alone enable it to expand’.

The report warns that attempts to recruit more GPs have consistently failed in recent years. Despite a DH target of 3,250 GP trainees per year, ‘GP recruitment has remained stubbornly below this target, at around 2,700 per annum, for the last four years’, the report says.

Rising numbers of GPs retiring early and in women quitting the profession in their 30s have compounded the failure to recruit, it warns.

Read more: summary of taskforce recommendations

The GP workforce is now in decline, the report warns, citing data showing that despite a rise in GPs per 100,000 head of population from 54 in 1995 to 62 in 2009, the number has now dropped back to 59.5.

‘Just as concerning is the unequal distribution of these GPs across the country: areas of high deprivation, where healthcare needs are typically greater, have fewer GPs per head than the UK average,’ the taskforce reported.

Failure to tackle the problem would be catastrophic for the NHS, the report warns, pointing out that ‘even a marginal shift of patients away from primary to secondary care would put the whole healthcare system under unmanageable pressure’.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Following persistent pressure from the BMA, we are pleased that at long last the GP taskforce report that was finalised in March has been published.

‘We have reached a serious crisis point where not enough GPs are being recruited and too many are retiring early. Recent GP trainee recruitment figures showed hundreds of vacancies across the UK.

‘A BMA survey in March suggested that six out of 10 GP were considering early retirement, with a third actively planning for this decision.

No time to waste

‘There is no longer any time to waste and the government needs to implement the findings of this report in full and begin a programme of sustained, long-term investment in the GP workforce as the BMA has called for in the Your GP Cares campaign.’

The report sets out a series of potential solutions, including a major publicity campaign to promote careers in general practice.

Hospital training posts should be cut to force more medical graduates into general practice, the report suggests.

Financial incentives should be used to attract more GPs into underdoctored parts of the country, it adds.

The report also backs a resumption of surveys into general practice workforce information and research into why GPs are retiring early.

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