The GP speciality fill rate following the first national recruitment round of 2019/20 was up 2% compared with this time last year, HEE said - from 2,533 (77.94%) in 2018 to 2,598 (79.94%) in 2019.
If the trend continues, HEE will be on track to meet its target of recruiting an annual total of 3,250 GP trainees into the workforce for the second year running. HEE said that it was aiming to recruit even more trainees than the 3,250 target in 2019/20 if possible.
Professor Simon Gregory, deputy medical director for primary and integrated care at HEE, said: ‘After our record breaking year last year when we exceeded our target, we are delighted that trainees are continuing to apply for GP specialty training in such large numbers. It shows that our campaign to highlight general practice as a rewarding, sustainable, flexible career is having a great impact.
GP speciality training
HEE hit (and surpassed) its target of recruiting 3,250 GP trainees for the first time in 2018, when a total of 3,473 medical graduates took on speciality posts in general practice - 10% above the number who did so in 2017.
Those recruited to GP specialty training via the first round of recruitment this year are expected to start their training posts in August 2019. Applications submitted during the round one ‘re-advert’ are currently being assessed, with successful applicants also expected to start in posts this summer.
The second recruitment round will be open to applications from the end of July 2019, with successful candidates starting work in February 2020.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the figures were 'hugely encouraging', adding: 'Being a GP can be the best job in the world – it’s dynamic, varied, intellectually-stimulating and enormously rewarding – as long as we are given the proper resources and funding we need to allow us to keep up with patient demand and the evolving face of modern healthcare.'
Dr Zoe Greaves, BMA GP trainees subcommittee co-chair, said: 'These figures show a step in the right direction, as more trainees choose general practice. Workforce shortages in recent years have meant GPs are under immense pressure to meet rising demand with fewer doctors, and so it’s good news that there is a rise in the number of trainees entering general practice.
'However, we should keep things in perspective,' she said. 'New trainees will also not solve the workforce crisis overnight. GPs take years to fully train, and trainees should not, in that period, be used to fill workforce gaps. At the other end of the scale, experienced GPs are choosing to leave the profession due to a combination of factors including workload pressures and issues around punitive pension rules, and more must be done to address this.'
Although more trainees than ever before are entering the workforce, figures released earlier this year show that more than 40% of GPs plan to leave general practice within the next five years. Meanwhile, the number of GP partners remains in freefall after almost 1,000 left the profession in 2018.
Dr Greaves added: 'In the longer term, we hope that recent changes in the GP contract, including a boosted healthcare team working in primary care networks, will go some way to improve the working environment in general practice and boost both recruitment and retention.'