Tories promise 50m more GP appointments a year and 6,000 extra GPs

The Conservatives have promised an extra 50m GP appointments a year and an extra 6,000 GPs by 2024/25 - just over a year after dropping the timescale for a failed pledge to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock

The extra 50m GP appointments a year pledged by the Conservatives represent around a 16% increase compared with the current annual total of around 310m appointments delivered in general practice.

Plans unveiled this weekend by the party would increase GP training places from 3,500 a year to 4,000 from 2021/22, as part of a plan to increase the GP workforce by 6,000 by 2024/25 and to recruit an extra '6,000 more nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists'.

The additional nurses, physios and pharmacists would be on top of the 20,000 extra staff promised through the creation of primary care networks, a Conservative statement said.

GP waiting times

The promise comes just months after Boris Johnson said in his first speech as prime minister that he had asked officials to come up with plans to 'drastically reduce' waits for GP appointments.

The promise of an extra 6,000 GPs over the next five years also comes just a year after health and social care secretary Matt Hancock dropped the March 2020 deadline set by his predecessor Jeremy Hunt ahead of the 2015 general election for increasing the workforce by 5,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs.

The latest pledge makes no mention of whether these extra doctors are being counted on an FTE or headcount basis.

However, in the four years since the September 2015 baseline for Mr Hunt's 5,000-GP pledge, the FTE workforce has dropped by 148. Once trainees are excluded, official figures for June 2019 show that the fully qualified FTE GP workforce dropped by 979 - a reduction of more than 3%.

GP workforce

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the ongoing GP workforce meant the profession faced 'intolerable pressure'. But he warned that the profession would wait 'with some trepidation to see if this latest promise can deliver'.

He warned: 'The lack of detail as to exactly how all these promises will be made good, particularly with no firm commitment for full reform of the ridiculous pension taxation system, means it remains to be seen whether these long overdue and very necessary improvements will be achieved.'

The GPC chair told GPonline that although the promise of extra training posts was welcome 'work would still need to be done to encourage doctors to apply to fill those places'.

He added: 'For this increase in trainees to lead to an increased number of appointments, much more needs to be done to retain GPs, which means urgent action to tackle the punitive impact of the pensions annual allowance and tapering, as well as more done to reduce workload pressures that can all too often lead to GPs reducing their time commitment or quitting altogether.'

Record funding

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: 'GPs are at their heart the best way of helping us all stay out of hospital. I know that it is too often difficult to book an appointment with a GP. We all know the feeling of ringing a GP surgery first thing in the morning, holding on to get an appointment.

'We will put record funding into our GP surgeries, and to help everyone get the care they need, we will create 50m extra appointments in GP surgeries each year, with the sort of easy online booking that we expect in other areas of our lives.'

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Conservatives 'always make election promises which they fail to deliver on'.

He said: 'Tory ministers promised us 5,000 extra GPs but in fact we have lost 1,600 GPs under the Tories. After years of starving the NHS of cash, it’s got harder and harder to get a GP appointment.

'Labour will invest more in family doctor services and train more GPs to deliver millions of extra appointments.'

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