Steve Brine MP told the House of Commons the Conservative government was committed to an extra 5,000 GPs as part of a wider increase in the primary care workforce.
The Tory manifesto made no mention of the pledge made by the previous regime ahead of the 2015 election.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt first announced the plan to ‘train and retain an extra 5,000 GPs’ at the Conservative conference in autumn 2014. The promise was criticised as unrealistic by GPs at the time.
Shortly after the surprise 2015 Tory election victory, re-appointed health secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted he had not been 'expecting to win the election’, and went on to soften the 5,000 GPs target from a minimum to ‘the maximum’ achievable.
The promise to recruit an additional 5,000 FTE GPs compared with 2014 now forms part of NHS England’s GP Forward View. The target was dealt a fresh blow in May when figures showed the workforce had shrunk by 445 in the last quarter of 2016.
Steve Brine, who was previously parliamentary private secretary to Mr Hunt, was appointed primary care minister after last month’s election. Speaking at the first health questions of the new parliament Mr Brine said: ‘NHS England and Health Education England are working together with the profession to increase the GP workforce. We believe that that is an essential part of creating a strong and sustainable general practice, and indeed NHS, for the future.’
The minister was asked by Labour MP for Burnley Julie Cooper how the government would deliver on the recruitment promise. She said: ‘I spoke to one GP last week who told me that because he has been unable to recruit help he has only been able to take one week’s leave in three years. That is clearly not sustainable. The morale of GPs is at an all-time low, the number of GPs continues to fall, surgeries are closing.’
Mr Brine responded that the GP Forward View was a ‘landmark document’ that set out the extra investment GPs have called for. ‘The good news, as the secretary of state said, is that more people are coming into general practice. We want to continue to encourage that, but we also have to take action to prevent early retirements and to bring people back to general practice. We are indeed doing that.’
The minister responded to a question about resolving the problem of rising indemnity costs, telling MPs the government would ‘ensure appropriate funding for GPs to meet rising costs in the short term and work with the industry to produce a longer-term solution’.