Election pledges on GP recruitment may take 30 years to deliver, RCGP warns

The NHS could have to wait up to 30 years for GP workforce increases promised by the political parties in their election bids, the RCGP has said.

Professor Nigel Mathers: RCGP questions election pledges (Photo: Pete Hill)
Professor Nigel Mathers: RCGP questions election pledges (Photo: Pete Hill)

The college called on the next government to introduce emergency measures to boost GP numbers, including cutting hospital training posts and paying off student loans.

Analysis by the college suggested that on current trends it would take until 2045 to recruit the 8,000 GPs promised by Labour and Ukip and until 2034 for the 5,000 the coalition parties have pledged.

The college called on whoever wins to introduce an urgent package of measures to recruit, retain and encourage returners. 

GP workforce crisis

An opinion poll commissioned by the RCGP in key marginal constituencies found that nine in 10 people cited protecting GP services as a high priority in the election.

The ComRes poll found 89% of voters in 40 marginal constituencies said GP services should be a very or fairly high priority.

The main parties have all vowed to increase GP numbers but have been criticised for failing to explain how they will do so.

GP recruitment plans

Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said medical graduates are already beginning to see general practices as the most exciting part of the service because of government plans to transform provision.

Labour’s Andy Burnham believes his plans to created integrated care organisations will attract more graduates to become GPs, as well as returners.

The Liberal Democrats’ Norman Lamb also want to make the role more attractive.

A workforce action plan published January by NHS England, the RCGP, GPC and Health Education England, included plans for investment in retainer schemes and financial support for trainees.

General election pledge

The RCGP said that GP numbers had increased by just 258 between 2013 and 2014. Honorary secretary Professor Nigel Mathers said while it was excellent the parties had recognised the urgent need for more GPs, the next government would need to introduce an emergency package of measures immediately after the election or risk missing its targets.

‘Whoever is in power, ministers will urgently need to rebalance the number of training places towards general practice by reducing the historic excess of training posts available in some hospital-based specialties; provide financial and other incentives – such as grants that can be used to pay off student loans – to newly qualified GPs if they agree to train and practise in under-doctored or deprived areas; and encouraging existing family doctors to stay in practice, by cutting the red tape in the QOF and reviewing the bureaucracy of the CQC inspection regime.

‘Any emergency package must dovetail with the 10-point plan to boost the GP workforce that was launched in January by the RCGP, NHS England, Health Education England, and the BMA.

‘If the new government – of whichever colour – misses its GP workforce target, then millions of patients will continue to have to wait more than a week to see their GP every year, and increasing numbers of family doctors will feel it is more and more difficult to deliver excellent patient care.’

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