This could force the DoH to embark upon expensive foreign recruitment drives.
Within three to four years, there could be a drastic shortage of whole-time-equivalent GPs, said Professor Pat Lane, director of postgraduate general practice education at South Yorkshire and South Humber deanery.
‘I predict that if something isn’t done, we will have the same chasm in whole-time equivalents as we had in the mid-1990s.
‘We will have to recruit from abroad,’ he said.
More than a third of medical students need to enter general practice, but the first national trainee survey showed that less than a quarter of senior house officers wanted a general practice career. Just over 23 per cent of 25,000 trainees surveyed last July said they wanted to become GPs.
Deaneries have been unable to fill all GP registrar vacancies with suitable applicants. This may reverse next August when the first tranche of F2 applicants starts specialist training.
But the DoH’s reneging on then health minister John Hutton’s commitment to provide a foundation year rotation in general practice for every trainee will depress numbers (GP, 3 November 2006).
Compared with the deanery’s prediction, the DoH’s draft workforce projections for 2010/11 showing a potential shortfall of 1,200 GPs pale into insignificance.
The forecast assumes zero growth in medical productivity. Patient choice, Payment by Results, practice-based commissioning and the electronic patient record have all been expected to increase patient throughput.
In the draft recommendations from the workforce directorate, the DoH suggested that more doctors train as GPs to help ease the expected glut of 3,200 consultants after achievement of the 18-week waiting target.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chairman, condemned the forecast shortfall as ‘appalling’.
‘We support an expansion in GP training and demand a reinstatement of measures to encourage qualified family doctors back into the profession,’ he said.
The DoH described the presentation of its figures as ‘alarmist mischief-making’.
Workforce predictions for 2010/11
Shortage of GPs - 1,200
Excess number of consultants - 3,200