Alistair Burt, speaking exclusively to GPonline, said more encouragement was needed from GPs to help boost numbers and resolve the workforce crisis.
He also asked GPs to understand that ministers do recognise the problems the profession faces even when they trumpet the positives of the profession, and are not ‘minimising’ difficulties.
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‘I know that doctors will find this a bit hard, maybe,' Mr Burt said, addressing the workforce crisis. ‘But it does need encouragement from those in the profession: to say that this is something they want to do.’
GP recruitment target
The pre-election target of 5,000 new GPs by 2020 would be enough to resolve the workforce gap, Mr Burt said, despite calls by the RCGP for 8,000 and scepticism from across the profession over the NHS’s ability to meet the target. The college has said 3,300 extra GPs are needed right now just to meet current demand.
The combination of new GPs and 5,000 other primary care health professionals, including physician associates and pharmacists, is seen as ‘doable’ by those involved in the joint workforce plan, the minister said.
Mr Burt acknowledged the need for investment, but said GPs themselves need to encourage new doctors into the service, suggesting they could encourage family members. ‘Families have a tradition of going into medicine as your readers will know very well,' he said.
Mr Burt, whose own father was a GP, said that medical schools ‘could do more’ to promote general practice to students. ‘We need the encouragement of everyone in the profession, of the professional bodies. As well as very clear statements from people like me,' he added.
Mr Burt appealed for GPs to understand that when government ministers speak publicly in praise of general practice, they are not minimising the problems it faces.
‘A minister has both got to absorb the genuine concerns of the profession, which I am trying to do in responding to the colleagues who write to me, responding to the doctors who write to me, responding to the doctors I see,' he said.
‘But at the same time, I do have to be positive about the future of the profession. And all I would ask is that when Jeremy [Hunt] and I make statements about the value of general practice, its role as the bedrock of medicine in British society, that we can say that and we can look to the innovations and the future while at the same time absorbing and recognising the concerns. It is not a zero-sum game.’