After the first round of recruitment to 2020 GP training posts and a further 're-advert' of these posts, 3,441 applicants have been accepted onto GP specialty training posts - up 15% from the 2,981 accepted at this stage last year. In 2018, 2,931 posts had been filled at this stage.
The number of trainees recruited at this stage means that 97% of the 3,549 posts on offer in 2020 have already been filled - up from 92% of the 3,250 posts available last year.
With one more recruitment round to go, HEE is on course to exceed its recruitment target significantly in 2020. In 2019 a total of 3,540 trainees posts were filled in total - well above the target for that year.
GP leaders welcomed the rise, but warned that retaining the existing GP workforce was crucial.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'These figures show that GP trainee numbers have risen by 15% compared to last year, putting the government on track to meet its goal of 3,500 trainee GPs entering the profession in 2020. This is excellent news and an important step in addressing the general practice workforce crisis.
'As we look post-COVID, building the general practice workforce must remain a priority for the government. But it isn’t just about recruitment, we also need to keep our more experienced GPs in the profession at a time when they are facing intense resource and workforce pressures.
'To put it simply, any recruitment efforts will be in vain if we are not retaining the workforce as well. We look to the forthcoming NHS People Plan for comprehensive details as to how this will be done.'
BMA GP committee workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: 'While this is encouraging, it is vitally important that we increase the support for the GPs that will be supervising and training these future GPs, and those that come in the future.
‘GP trainers face challenges balancing their clinical workloads, as well as high levels of bureaucracy, in addition to their responsibilities in education and training for GP specialty trainees. These factors of exceptionally high and demanding workloads are the issues that can influence decisions to leave the profession.
‘This trend of increasing numbers in GP training could lead to significant improvements in primary care for patients. However, it is crucial that we value and retain the existing workforce to ensure that GP numbers do truly increase in the long term.’
Deputy medical director for primary and integrated care at HEE Professor Simon Gregory, said: ‘We are delighted that trainees are continuing to apply for GP specialty training in such high numbers. It shows that our campaign to highlight general practice as a rewarding, sustainable, flexible career continues to appeal.
‘It’s great that so many doctors are choosing a career in general practice. I would like to thank everyone who is working hard to promote GP specialty training.’
The second round of GP trainee recruitment for 2020 opens at the end of this month, with the final number of posts filled to be confirmed in autumn.
The rise in overall doctors in GP training reflects an expansion in the number of training posts available each year and increasing success in filling those posts.
HEE is working with employers to support successful applicants who need to defer their start date due the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has also commissioned an independent review of all recruitment processes affected pandemic including a comprehensive Equality Impact Analysis to ensure robust plans are in place for future rounds of recruitment.
Earlier this year the government announced that the number of GP training posts will rise to 4,000 by 2021 from the current 3,500. Meanwhile, from 2022 each GP trainee will spend 24 months of their three-year training programme in general practice, up from the current 18 months.
The number of places on the targeted enhanced recruitment scheme (TERS) - which offers £20,000 payments to GP trainees taking up posts in underdoctored areas - is also set to increase to ‘at least’ 500 by 2021. There are currently 276 TERS places.
The Conservatives have also promised to grow the GP workforce by 6,000 doctors by 2024/25 and to deliver an extra 50m GP appointments a year.