RCGP unveils roadmap for GP workforce overhaul, warning profession 'running on empty'

The government must set out clear milestones towards its 6,000-GP workforce target, invest substantially in GP recruitment, retention and training, and solve the NHS pension tax crisis by 2021, the RCGP has warned.

Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)
Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)

A roadmap for overhauling the GP workforce published by the college - and sent to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock - demands 'clear, realistic short-to-medium term government targets for the expansion of GP workforce in each country of the UK, as well as for expansion of the whole general practice team'.

The document calls for an overhaul of education and training, including urgent expansion of GP training places, funding to support an increase in GP educator and trainer roles, a move to GP trainees spending at least 24 months in general practice and a focus on underdoctored areas.

It demands a revamp of GP returner and refresher schemes, and says the government must 'pump-prime investments in targeted actions to improve the workload of GPs' and 'substantially increase investment in locally-led GP retention initiatives'.

NHS pension reform

The college has also demanded reform of the NHS pension system by 2021 - amid evidence that thousands of GPs have been forced to reduce their working hours or refuse extra shifts to avoid punitive tax on pensions.

In a letter to Mr Hancock alongside the workforce roadmap, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'General practice has been running on empty for too long and GPs are working under intense pressure with a workload that is escalating and causing many to burn out and leave the profession – and facing difficulties recruiting GPs and other members of staff to manage this demand.

'The impact of these measures will be to significantly improve the access to our service and the quality of the care we can give to our patients.'

Professor Marshall added: 'GPs must be given the support they need to give patients the high-quality care they deserve.'

GP workforce

The government has pledged to increase the GP workforce by 6,000 FTE doctors by 2024/25 and promised to deliver 6,000 additional staff in primary care by the same date on top of 20,000 staff expected to be recruited through primary care networks.

Calls for shorter-term milestones towards the ultimate 6,000-GP goal suggest the college may be mindful of the government's failure to deliver on a 2015 pledge to increase the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020/21.

Figures published late last year by NHS Digital revealed that the fully-qualified FTE GP workforce dropped by 340 over the year to September 2019 - and that the current number of fully-qualified FTE GPs is more than 1,000 below the figure for September 2015.

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'GPs play a crucial role in delivering outstanding care to patients at the heart of our communities.

'We have recruited a record number of GP trainees this year, and we are determined to go even further. So we will deliver 6,000 more doctors, as well as thousands more physiotherapists, pharmacists and other highly-skilled practitioners, so patients get an extra 50m appointments a year within the next five years.'

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