Government will hit 'difficult' 5,000-GP recruitment target, pledges health secretary

Health secretary Matt Hancock has pledged the government will meet its target of recruiting an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020/21, despite admitting the goal was proving 'difficult, to say the least'.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock sent a video message to the RCGP annual conference (Photo: Pete Hill)
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock sent a video message to the RCGP annual conference (Photo: Pete Hill)

In a video message to GPs at the RCGP annual conference 2018 in Glasgow, Mr Hancock said that to achieve his vision of building a more sustainable, prevention-focused NHS, 'quite simply we need an expansion of primary care and we need more GPs'.

Under a target set by then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2015, the government pledged to increase the full-time equivalent (FTE) GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020/21.

However, since the target was set the FTE GP workforce has instead dropped by more than 1,400 - a decline that RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has called 'distressing and demoralising'.

GP recruitment

Mr Hancock told the conference: 'In 2015 the target was set to recruit 5,000 more GPs and that target has proved difficult to say the least. But I am telling you today, we are going to make it happen.

'Some say we don’t need more GPs because we should change the model. I completely disagree. We need more GPs and we need more people in primary care practices supporting GPs.

'We need to retain the expertise and wisdom of GPs who have practised for years as well as welcoming the record numbers of trainees that we now have and bringing the brightest and best from around the world to help in the system in England and the UK.'

The health secretary confirmed the government would implement a state-backed indemnity scheme for GPs by April 2019, but offered no information about how it would work despite repeated calls from the profession for more detail. He reiterated his high-profile support for new technology in the NHS, but after criticism for recent support for Babylon and GP at Hand sought to reassure GPs that 'I hold no brief for any one piece of technology or any one company'.

Transformation

Mr Hancock said he believed that 'the most transformational period in general practice in recent years' was beginning. He pointed to heavy GP workload and rising demand from an ageing population, and said the pressure created an opportunity to shift to prevention and more self care, harnessing technology.

He added that his goal was 'to make the profession more attractive by addressing the concerns of GPs' - pointing to the GP partnership review led by Dr Nigel Watson - and saying he looked forward to his recommendations on how to reinvigorate the partnership model. Mr Hancock said the review would feed into government talks on how to invest the £20bn extra funding per year promised for the NHS.

He told GPs: 'I am looking forward to working with you to create a future of general practice that benefits patients and staff and the wider NHS, and supports GPs as people and as a profession, as the bedrock of the NHS, to make sure that it’s sustainable for the long term, which is the goal that all of us share.'

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