Experts fear dumbing down of GP training in post-COVID world

Senior doctors fear GP training could be 'dumbed down' as the profession considers how the process can be modernised to reflect changes in practice accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images)
(Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images)

Remote consultations by telephone, video and other digital formats have been on the rise for some time - but until the pandemic face-to-face consultations still accounted for around 80% of patient contacts.

However, just a quarter of GP appointments in England were delivered face-to-face in the past month, according to RCGP data that show how primary care has revolutionised services in response to the crisis.

Change to this extent is unlikely to be permanent, but many GPs including RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall have suggested that after the COVID-19 pandemic general practice is unlikely to revert completely to its pre-pandemic state - with remote consultations likely to play a far greater role than in the past.

GP training reform

Health Education England (HEE) deputy medical director Professor Simon Gregory agreed the pandemic could be a 'springboard for change' and said in a blog post last month that the delivery and assessment of GP training had to reflect the 'new norm'.

He wrote that general practice needed to 'train for the future not the past', with much greater flexibility needed in the profession's future approach to learning and assessment, which he argued should be 'as flexible, if not more so, than our working practices'. Professor Gregory said: 'If many consultations are remote, how do we train for those? What does excellence in remote consulting look like? How does remote supervision work?'

But GPs have warned against a dramatic reduction in face-to-face learning as part of the shift - arguing it must remain at the core of speciality training.

Doctors have also highlighted fears that the clinical skills assessment (CSA) part of the MRCGP test could be scrapped due to an increasing emphasis on remote consulting post pandemic. Under temporary rules to allow trainees to complete their training during the pandemic, video or audio recordings of consultations can be submitted as part of the CSA test.

CSA test

Guildford-based GP educator Dr Martin Brunet told GPonline that he would be alarmed if there was not 'a robust communication assessment' in the CSA. He said: ‘I think teaching and assessing consultation skills is really key and fundamental for being a GP.

‘The minute we think that it’s just about knowledge and following algorithms or triaging patients alone, then we’re dumbing down what it means to be a GP. Good communication is part of any role of being a doctor, but it’s always been really core to general practice.

‘The face-to-face-consulting is where you really learn the art of being a GP as a trainee as well, whether you are sitting in with your trainer or doing a joint surgery and they are observing you.’

Dr Brunet said the CSA could be adapted to reflect changes in how GPs consult now, suggesting the number of telephone consultation stations in the CSA should be increased.


GPs on Twitter expressed concern that face-to-face learning could be reduced and defended the role of the CSA exam. Primary care educator and Yorkshire sessional GP Dr Kisty Baldwin warned that training would be further dumbed down if it was scrapped.

Some GPs backed reforming GP training to meet modern needs. Nottinghamshire GP Dr Prakash Kachhala said: ‘Even pre-COVID there were clearly some things that needed to adapt. There’s more acute same day care, more remote consultations - all need to be reflected in training and assessment.’

East London GP Dr Osman Bhatti said he would support a review of the curriculum, revealing that his team had already started using webinars and online learning.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall told GPonline that trainees had to have 'the right skills, knowledge and capabilities' to help them navigate clinical practice now and in the future.

‘During the COVID-19 pandemic, GPs and their patients have quickly adapted to very different ways of working, in particular providing remote consultations - but face-to-face consultations are a vital part of general practice and we expect the numbers to start rising again as things start getting back to the “new normal”, and this will need to continue to be reflected in our assessment,’ he said.

‘The college consistently monitors both the curriculum and exam to ensure it keeps pace with the changing nature of general practice and introduce changes, if necessary, to keep the exam valid and appropriate, and we will continue to do so,’ he added.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

UK COVID-19 vaccination programme tracker

UK COVID-19 vaccination programme tracker

GPs across the UK are playing a leading role in the largest-ever NHS vaccination...

What GPs need to know about the GMC's new guidance on prescribing

What GPs need to know about the GMC's new guidance on prescribing

MDU medico-legal adviser Kathryn Leask explains the key issues GPs need to be aware...

PCNs promised missing COVID-19 vaccine pay this month after cashflow warning

PCNs promised missing COVID-19 vaccine pay this month after cashflow warning

NHS England has promised to deliver thousands of pounds in missing payments to GP...

Chancellor's 'unfair tax on doctors' could drive 72% into early retirement, BMA warns

Chancellor's 'unfair tax on doctors' could drive 72% into early retirement, BMA warns

A five-year freeze on the pensions lifetime allowance in the government's 2021 budget...

Doctors warn of 'massive impact' on workforce as Sunak freezes pension lifetime allowance

Doctors warn of 'massive impact' on workforce as Sunak freezes pension lifetime allowance

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed a five-year freeze on the pension lifetime allowance...

Hancock praises 'monumental effort' from GPs during COVID-19 pandemic

Hancock praises 'monumental effort' from GPs during COVID-19 pandemic

Health secretary Matt Hancock has thanked GPs for their ‘monumental effort’ in delivering...