Research by the BMA and the RCGP has shown that the true cost of funding a single full-time student in general practice works out at around £1,000 per week. However, GP practices currently receive just £620 per week to host trainees - a near 40% shortfall.
The RCGP says that students spend around four weeks in general practice - meaning that practices are left out of pocket to the tune of £1,520 for every student they host. Across the profession as a whole, with 7,500 students expected to have a placement in general practice in 2018/19, the figures suggest GPs are losing out by £11.4m a year.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard and GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey have each written to health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt demanding immediate action to resolve the issue, warning it could deepen the GP workforce crisis.
The BMA, meanwhile, has warned that 'approximately £20m per year of additional funding is needed to fully cover the costs borne by GP training practices', rising to around £31m by 2019/20 as medical student numbers increase.
Dr Vautrey said that the BMA and ministers 'had agreed that a national flat-rate tariff for all clinical placements whether in primary or secondary care should be established’. However, DHSC officials have yet to implement the measure.
The GPC chair's letter asks Jeremy Hunt for his ‘personal intervention to secure the implementation of an agreed approach to increase the funding of undergraduate placements in primary care’.
Both the GPC and RCGP have voiced concerns over the long-term implications that continued underfunding for student placements could have on the future of general practice.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘The BMA remains concerned that the government’s plans to increase the number of GPs will not be realised until an end to the long-term underfunding of undergraduate placements is addressed to attract and secure the future GP workforce.'
Professor Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Many practices are struggling with unsustainably high workloads and gaps in their workforce, which has implications on the provision of safe, high-quality patient care. Expecting these practices to train and inspire the next generation of GPs without sufficient funding to do so is simply unviable, and will put our ability to expand the GP workforce at risk.’
The DHSC said it was aware of inconsistencies in the funding of undergraduate placements in primary care. A spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to introducing tariffs for primary care education and training that better reflects the costs and benefits to employers of students and trainees by 2019/20.'
Mr Hunt admitted last month that he was ‘struggling’ to deliver his target of 5,000 extra GPs by 2020/21. Last month, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said that medical school places must double by 2030 to meet the rising demand for doctors.