Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard: Why GP training should be extended

We desperately need extra investment and extra GPs for frontline general practice so we can begin to offer longer consultations to those patients who really need them.

We also need the GP specialty training programme to keep pace with the progressively more challenging and complex environment that is modern general practice.

As GPs, we never know who is going to walk through the door – and with what condition, what social problems or what psychological challenges.

What makes GPs so valuable and unique to the NHS is our position as expert medical generalists, managing uncertainty as we treat patients with diverse and complex illnesses.

General practice has the broadest curriculum of all the medical specialties, yet GP training is the shortest of all other UK medical or surgical specialties, and currently shorter than that of many other European countries.

This is why College Council, after much debate, has decided to re-start the case for a longer, enhanced training programme – to give trainees the flexibility to have more time in a GP setting, based in the community, and allow for greater exposure to important areas such as mental and child health.

We have been making the argument for some time now and actually came very close to achieving our aim a few years ago until the cost was deemed prohibitive.

General practice is changing

Our bid for longer training is not about questioning the current training programme – the fact that around 3,000 highly qualified and competent GPs enter our profession every year proves that the family doctors of today and the standard of GP training are excellent.

GPs going through the system currently are among the best in the world, but GPs are now dealing with conditions that even a decade ago would have been referred automatically to hospital consultants.

This is a remarkable achievement and GPs should be applauded for it, but general practice is changing - the training of our future GPs must adapt to ensure that it meets their needs as well as the needs of patients and the profession.

As well as benefiting newly-qualified GPs, and ultimately our patients, longer GP training will also reflect the growing importance of general practice as a specialty and the huge contribution GPs make to the health service.

This has to be a positive move.

  • Professor Stokes-Lampard is chair of the RCGP

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