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Independents' Day

GPs facing major pension losses

GP registrar numbers are stagnating, latest Government figures reveal.

Statistics released by the Department of Health show the number of registrars in training fell by four, to 2,435 in the year to March 2005.

The findings are further evidence of the growing problems facing postgraduate education and point to worsening GP shortages in coming years.

Deaneries recently reported that cutbacks in budgets had forced them to shelve plans to expand the number of places they offered.

They are now predicting a bottleneck in coming years, with increasing numbers of applicants for new foundation training programmes but the same or fewer places.

Saying the figures were 'very disappointing', Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said the 'worrying standstill' in registrar numbers would have severe impact.

He said: 'These GPs in training form the new life-blood of the profession and their numbers should be significantly expanding to match the increasing demands on family doctors as services switch from hospital to the community.'

Dr Meldrum added that the increase in part-time working among new GPs meant 1.5 new doctors needed to be trained to replace every GP who retired.

Dr Roger Price, associate dean at Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland deanery, said the impetus to increase registrar numbers had 'completely evaporated'.

He said: 'The budget cuts mean we have got to be more careful about how we manage places and we can't develop them as much as we would like.'

Dr Price, a GP in Loughborough, said competition for places was growing because general practice was increasingly seen as an attractive career option.

This was likely to create a 'bottleneck', forcing many people who wanted to become a GP to choose a different option, he added.

The Department of Health's NHS workforce statistics revealed an overall rise of 445 GPs in the three months to March 05 and of 1,063 in the previous year.

Whole time equivalent numbers rose by 351 to 31,179.

A spokesman for the department said GP registrar numbers had increased by 1,000 since 1997.

What the latest workforce figures show

·Overall GP numbers up by 445 in three months to March

·Whole-time equivalents up 351

·Vacancy rate 2.4 per cent in England, 2.1 per cent in Wales

·Urban areas and high-workload practices finding it hardest to recruit

·Registrar numbers down after years of steady increase

By John Robinson

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