Editorial: Clarity needed in GP workforce figures

It was Mark Twain who first popularised the phrase 'lies, damned lies and statistics'.

These words sprang to GP's mind as the UK Statistics Authority attempted to explain how the government was able to say GP numbers had risen since it took office, while Labour could insist they had fallen.

The National Association of Sessional GPs believes all of these figures are useless because they exclude locums, a point as yet unanswered by the UK Statistics Authority.

Elsewhere, our website, GPonline, revealed exclusively that problems filling GP training posts could continue into 2015, amid administrative confusion that may have cost young doctors the chance to apply.

Candidates reported problems in applying for 2015 trainee posts after the General Practice National Recruitment Office (GPNRO) claimed their competency documents could not be used to support their application, despite its own guidance to the contrary.

These complications come at a time when chronic shortages of GPs are rife. GP reported earlier this year that a third of practices have at least one vacant GP post. Meanwhile, almost 400 GP trainee posts remain unfilled as 2014 ends, despite an all-out approach to boost numbers.

In other news, GP leaders were encouraged by autumn statement leaks suggesting chancellor George Osborne was to set aside more than £1bn in new funding for GP services. The money could be used to improve general practice infrastructure, a policy backed in a GP editorial in October.

The efforts by the UK Statistics Authority and the GPNRO to quantify and deal with the shortage of GPs is concerning.

How can the government best address the GP workforce crisis when the bodies it looks to for help and guidance are facing such criticism?

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