In a speech at the Labour party conference, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said his party would expand the number of GP training places by 1,500 a year to ‘ease the burden on GPs’.
He pointed out that excessive workloads had led to many GPs quitting their jobs, leaving those who remained in their posts under even greater pressure to meet demand.
Labour’s proposals would see the number of GP training posts increase from 3,500 to 5,000 a year - in line with demands made by the RCGP earlier this month to expand the number of available places by more than 40%.
The college has said that increasing the number of GP training places is the only way the current government could hope to meet its pledge of recruiting 5,000 extra full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs.
Addressing Labour party members in Brighton, Ashworth said the proposal would relieve strain on surgeries. He said: ‘We all know how difficult it is to get a GP appointment, trying to get through on the phone and then forced to wait weeks to see a family doctor.
‘But I also know the pressures our GPs are under day in, day out. We’ve lost just over 1,600 full-time GPs under the Tories and GPs tell me they are overworked, exhausted and pushed to the brink.
‘Labour will expand GP training places by 1,500. Raising the number of places to 5,000 a year, and by building up the GP workforce it will mean 27m extra GP appointments there for you and your family, when you need it.’
Primary care workforce
Despite the number of GP trainees rising by a quarter in the last seven years, the RCGP had argued that more GP training posts were needed to help stem the flow of FTE, fully qualified GPs leaving the profession.
England’s NHS lost almost 600 FTE, fully qualified GPs during the past year, with total numbers falling to 28,257.
Meanwhile, the total FTE GP workforce figure - which includes registrars and locums - has actualy fallen since then health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged to add 5,000 FTE GPs to the NHS workforce, falling from 34,262 in September 2015 to 34,114 in June 2019.
Responding to Labour’s announcement, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We have a severe shortage of family doctors and the college has long been campaigning for more GPs and to boost the number of medical students going into GP training - so any commitment to increase the number of GPs in training will be welcome news to hardworking GPs who are going above and beyond on a daily basis to deliver the very best care we can to our patients, with very limited resources.'
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey also welcomed the pledge - also backing a commitment to improving GP retention. He said: ‘As this announcement rightly points out, keeping GPs is just as important as recruiting them so we also need to see plans to address the issues leading to so many GPs leaving the profession or suffering high levels of stress and to support our existing and experienced workforce, not only to provide high-quality patient care, but to help mentor and guide the next generation of family doctors.’
Labour has also committed to scrapping prescription fees in a move to reduce NHS costs, arguing that the cost of prescriptions often put people off taking the medicines they needed, leading to them developing more serious conditions in the future - costing the NHS more. Prescriptions are currently free for patients living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.