Deputy medical director Dr Mike Bewick told GP he did not believe there was an argument for 10,000 new GPs.
Speaking exclusively to GP, Dr Bewick, who is leading NHS England’s 'call to action' consultation of the future of general practice, said while the workforce needed to keep up with demographic change, innovation was part of the solution to workload pressures.
But outgoing RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada, who has led the college's demand for the workforce expansion by 2022, hit back, warning the current workforce was insufficient and urgent action was necessary. She called on NHS England to launch a review of GP workload.
Later this month, Professor Gerada will take up her new role overseeing NHS England's general practice transformation in London. A local call to action on general practice is due to be launched in the capital within weeks.
Dr Bewick, a former GP, said he did not know what the exact pattern of the GP workforce should be, but part of his call to action work was to examine the problem in response to ideas for innovation in the organisation of primary care.
'I don’t believe we can make an argument to say we need 10,000 more GPs tomorrow; I really don’t,' he said. 'I think there’s a demographic increase, our population’s expanding fairly rapidly, and it has to keep pace with that. And already Health Education England is trying to alter the emphasis so we are going to get 50% of trainees coming through in training as GPs. And that is absolutely right.'
Dr Bewick's comments echoed recent comments by Monitor official Paul Dinkin, who heads the regulator’s consultation on general practice. Mr Dinkin said last month that primary care needed a reconfiguration of skills to deal with workload pressures rather than more resources and doctors.
Some GPs would in future need a higher skill level, said Dr Bewick, particularly around managing risk.
‘I’m talking about the early intervention stuff vulnerable elderly in particular, and people with mental health problems, I’m talking about children with complex problems - we’re going to have to manage much more of those in primary care, so some are going to have to have additional training.’
Hospitals, he added, would need more porous walls, with specialists becoming ‘specialist generalists’, working more in the community.
Professor Gerada said GP workload was rising dramatically while funding and the number of new doctors were not rising at the same rate.
‘The Centre for Workforce Intelligence has said that the existing GP workforce in England is insufficient and without urgent action this will get even worse.
‘We need more detailed research into the increase in the number of consultations in general practice since 2008 - when the Government last commissioned a review - and it would be a great step forward if NHS England could help make this happen.
‘As numbers of people with complex and multiple conditions grow, the need for GPs - with their unique skills in managing a variety of conditions - will only increase. We must ensure that we have sufficient numbers of GPs to deliver the range of care and services that our patients need and deserve.’
See the next issue of GP magazine for the full interview with Dr Bewick.