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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Government target for GP recruitment is in tatters

The number of whole-time equivalent GPs in England rose by just 29 last year, leaving the Government's NHS Plan target to increase GP numbers by 2,000 by next year in shreds.

Department of Health figures revealed growth in GP recruits was almost entirely cancelled out by a sharp rise in the number leaving the profession.

The statistics, released last week, showed the number of whole-time equivalent GPs in England grew from 25,938 in 2001 to 25,967 in 2002 ­ up 0.1 per cent.

The total number of new and returning GPs ­ including part-timers ­ rose from 1,452 in 2001 to 1,633 in 2002, but 1,445 GPs left the specialty in 2002, up from 1,313 in 2001. The increase in the number of leavers gave a worrying sign of the increasing impact of the retirement timebomb.

The GPC warned the new GMS contract would do little in the short-term to stem the flow of GPs quitting the NHS and would take six years to have a positive effect on recruitment.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said the

contract's impact would be limited to medical students who would start working

under the new terms: 'You have to be appealing to people who are exposed to general practice under the new contract, so that's third-year students a year from now, and they will not be GPs for six years.'

Dr Buckman also demanded an apology from the Government for setting a 'ridiculous recruitment target'. He added: 'Even a miracle will not make it go up now. Targets are nuts.'

The department said the number of whole-time equivalents had risen at a slower rate than headcount because of increased part-time working due to the rise in female doctors.

The total number of unrestricted principals and equivalent ­ excluding GP retainers ­ rose by 11 per cent between 1992 and 2002 from 28,185 to 31,182.

GP registrar numbers rose from 1,883 in 2001 to 1,980 in 2002.

Dr Maureen Baker, honorary secretary of the RCGP and joint chair of the RCGP/GPC workforce committee, said the results were 'deeply disappointing'. She added: 'It just emphasises how acute our workforce crisis is.'

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