The college warned that increasing trainee places from the current 3,500 figure to 5,000 a year was the only way the government could hope to meet its pledge to increase the full-time equivalent (FTE) GP workforce by 5,000 doctors.
Ahead of a spending review announcement expected on Wednesday from Chancellor Sajid Javid, the college called for investment in GP recruitment and retention, warning that 'despite great and successful efforts to boost recruitment, more family doctors are leaving the profession that entering it'.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has written to chief secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak, calling for an increase of at least 3.6% in the budget for education and training of GPs and other healthcare professionals – worth £160m.
GP training posts
The call for a sharp rise in GP training posts comes just days after official figures from NHS Digital revealed that England lost almost 600 FTE, fully qualified GPs over the past year.
The college said the 'interim people plan' published earlier this year by the government - which promised incentives to boost the GP workforce - had set out 'laudable aspirations' but with insufficient funding. It pointed out that the Health Education England education and training budget was not included in the £20.5bn funding increase promised in the NHS long-term plan.
Professor Stokes-Lampard wrote: 'It is crucial that more is done to retain the hardworking GPs we currently have. There has been some success with locally funded GP retention schemes, but the £13m currently allocated is woefully insufficient...expanding the local funding for GP retainer schemes by an additional £72m could have a significant effect in preventing much needed experienced GPs leaving general practice.'
The college chair added: 'General practice keeps the NHS afloat by making the vast majority of patient contacts for a modest share of the overall funding – this alleviates pressures in hospitals, and keeps our health service sustainable.
'But GPs and our teams are facing intense resource and workforce pressures – and it is causing a growing crisis in our patients’ access to general practice services, which the prime minister pledged to address when he took up office.
'Based on current workforce trends, the college estimates that we need to start training at least 5,000 GPs every year to meet the government’s overall target to expand the GP workforce by 5,000 FTE GPs over the next few years.'
Professor Stokes-Lampard called for an increase in medical school places, and a target of 50% of these doctors choosing general practice.
She added: 'In the shorter term we need to tackle the crisis of depleting numbers of fully-qualified GPs head on by making the workload more manageable and introducing initiatives to help retain our hard working, experienced GPs in the profession – not just to deliver vital patient care, but so that GPs of the future can learn from them.
'Demand for our services is escalating, but without the workforce to deal with this, GPs are burning out with many leaving the profession before they planned to – and patients are waiting longer for an appointment as a result. We desperately need to see more funding for the roll out of retention schemes across the country, to tackle this.'
A record number of GP trainees was recruited in 2018 - with more than 3,400 in total brought into training places, 7% more than the target figure for the year.
A DHSC spokesperson said: 'We have seen a record number of GP trainees enter training and we expect that trend to continue this year. We have also created an additional 1,500 undergraduate medical school places and opened five brand new medical schools so that more doctors are beginning careers in the NHS.
'The NHS People Plan – published later this year by NHS England – will set out our plans for securing the staff we need for the future, including for primary care.'