A total of 2,936 trainees were accepted into posts by HEE following two recruitment rounds this year, 314 short of its 3,250 target.
This is despite HEE managing to recruit 167 more GP trainees than last year. Fill-rate rose only one percentage point on 2015 from 89% to 90%, with 133 more posts made available during 2016.
HEE officials warned earlier in the year that it was ‘likely’ to miss the mandate target, which directed it to ‘ensure a minimum of 3,250 trainees per year (equating to approximately half of the annual number of trainees completing foundation training and moving into specialisations) are recruited to GP training programmes in England by 2016’.
Some areas have improved recruitment – the North East deanery struggled with just 62% of places filled last year, which it increased to 79% this year. The East Midlands boosted recruitment from 69% to 95%.
But while some areas have delivered marked improvements in recruitment, other areas have dipped with Yorkshire and the Humber falling from 90% last year to 78% in 2016.
The figures were mentioned by Jeremy Hunt at the Best Practice conference in Birmingham on Thursday, with the health secretary announcing that GP recruitment had hit record levels.
He also admitted to not investing in the GP and wider doctor workforce as a priority in his time as health secretary.
Considering the whole of the UK, Northern Ireland has the highest fill rate with 99% of posts filled, followed by Wales with 96%. Scotland struggled to fill posts the most, recruiting doctors to fill just two thirds (64%) of its available places.
HEE chief executive Professor Ian Cumming said the rise in the number of GP trainees was ‘particularly welcome’, although he was aware ‘there is still much to do’.
‘We knew that it would also take some time for all of our joint initiatives with the RCGP around raising the profile and attractiveness of general practice as a career to take effect, but the additional GP trainees we have already seen shows that this work is beginning to bear fruit and will continue to focus on GP recruitment as a high priority in HEE.’
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, GPC lead on education, training and workforce, said: ‘Whilst acknowledging that GP recruitment has improved, the government needs to realise that GP services are facing endemic shortages across the workforce with too many GPs leaving the profession and too few medical graduates joining.
‘The current vacancy figures still leave general practice in England hundreds of GPs short of the target set by the health secretary, especially for GP trainees. We need the government to urgently implement its recent promises in the GP Forward View so that we can recruit and retain enough GPs to deliver effective care to patients.
‘At a time when general practice is under tremendous pressure, the health secretary’s recent performance at the Health Select Committee was very worrying for those trying to turn the tide on GP recruitment, given he couldn’t articulate how much investment was going to be delivered to the NHS.
‘There needs to be greater clarity and swifter action so that we address the problems threatening to overwhelm GP practices across England.’
In addition to the 2,936 starting GP training, official data show that 53 people are starting GP PST (preparation for specialty training), Broad Based Training (BBT) and FY2 GP courses.