Primary risk for GP workforce is slow trainee recruitment, say officials

The NHS could be forced to recruit more GPs from overseas and boost incentives for doctors to retire later or return from career breaks if trainees continue to shun general practice, officials have warned.

GP trainee: slow recruitment is key threat to workforce (Photo: JH Lancy)

A £5bn workforce report unveiled by Health Education England (HEE) sets out plans to drive up the number of full-time equivalent GPs by 15% between 2013 and 2020.

But the report admits that the ‘primary risk’ to this rise is the NHS’ ability to fill GP training posts.

In 2014 just 88% of available GP training posts were filled, with more than 350 remaining vacant. A total of 2,688 places were filled.

Training plans

The planned increase in GP numbers depends on training 3,100 GPs in 2015 and 3,250 each year from 2016.

The report says HEE has been working with the RCGP and other groups to ‘encourage trainees to take the fantastic training opportunities available to become a GP in what will be a transformed primary and community care landscape’.

Co-commissioning of primary care services by CCGs will play a key role in driving up GP numbers, the report reveals.

Building the GP workforce is dependent on ‘newly qualified GPs [being] attracted into substantive posts’, the report warns. ‘This will require a significant expansion in the number of GP jobs commissioned under the new co-commissioning arrangements between NHS England and CCGs and for these positions to be attractive to new qualifiers,’ it says.

Wider workforce

The need to develop the wider primary care workforce as services move out of hospitals is also recognised in the report, which outlines plans to drive up practice nurse training posts by 65% in 2015/16.

The report backs a sharp rise in training places for ‘physicians associates’ – from 24 posts in 2014/15 to 205 in 2015/16 – but acknowledges that not all of this group will work in ‘a range of settings including emergency care, not just primary and community care’.

However, HEE admits this year's workforce report is a 'starting point' that could be significantly overhauled once 'more detailed modelling' to take account of the demands of NHS England's Five Year Forward View report is complete.

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