GP trainees hit new landmark as 4,000 accept posts starting in 2021

A record number of people will start GP training in 2021, with the total intake reaching the landmark figure of 4,000 for the first time according to figures from Health Education England (HEE).

Group of young doctors
GP trainees hit new record (Photo: People Images/Getty Images)

Exactly 4,000 trainees have accepted places to begin specialist general practice training in 2021/22, meeting the government’s target and surpassing last year’s intake of 3,793 trainees by 5.5%.

The findings mean that HEE has now hit or exceeded GP trainee targets every year since 2018. Figures from NHS Digital show that there are 8,664 GPs in training grade in GP placements across England as of September 2021.

The latest record intake comes after Medical Schools Council (MSC) co-chair Professor Malcolm Reed warned last month that ‘very public criticism’ of general practice in the media threatened to put off trainees choosing to enter the profession.

GP trainee recruitment

Recruitment for this year's cohort saw the fourth largest increase in GP trainees during the past seven years, after 2018 (10%), 2016 (9%) and 2020 (7.1%). But this year is the first time that the number of recruits into GP specialist training has hit the 4,000 mark.

GPonline reported in March that GP trainee recruitment was on track for a fourth successive record-breaking year after posts filled in the first rounds for 2021 broke previous records. A total of 3,690 doctors accepted GP training positions after the first round of recruitment to 2021 GP training posts.

HEE deputy medical director of primary and integrated care Professor Simon Gregory said: ‘It has been a challenging 18 months for the profession across the board. As a GP myself it is heart-warming to see so many trainees wanting to become family doctors.

‘The fact that so many people are interested in joining general practice speciality training means we are doing all we can to help provide a sufficient and sustainable workforce.’

Patient care

HEE director of education and quality and medical director Professor Wendy Reid, said: ‘We are pleased that we have managed to hit the new target of recruiting 4,000 new GPs. We are committed to promoting a career as a GP for trainee doctors approaching the end of their foundation training.

‘Recent GP workforce figures show that trainees are a valuable part of the primary care workforce. On a daily basis they see and treat patients and provide a great service across the country.’

The Conservatives promised to grow the GP workforce by 6,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) doctors by 2024 and to deliver an extra 50m GP appointments a year. But health secretary Sajid Javid admitted last month that the government was not on track to hit the workforce target.

Recruitment issues may have been further damaged by harsh coverage of general practice in some sections of the media, according to Professor Reed, who has warned that recent reporting has affected the desirability careers in general practice, with ‘very damaging’ short-term and long-term effects.

The number of fully-qualified, FTE GPs in England has barely changed over the past year based on NHS Digital estimates - and BMA estimates reveal a sharp fall of around 1,700 since 2015. FTE GP partners continue to decline, dropping by 3% last year.

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