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Revealed: 15% drop in GP training applications set to exacerbate recruitment crisis

Exclusive Applications for postgraduate GP specialty training have dropped by 15% this year putting Government targets to boost GP numbers at risk, Pulse has learnt.

Official figures due to be published imminently will show almost 1,000 fewer trainees expressing an interest in general practice across the UK, compared with 2013, striking a huge blow to the Government’s attempts to attract 3,250 new GPs a year in England by 2015.

The 15% drop in applications - announced by the GP National Recruitment Office at an internal meeting of education directors - and revealed to Pulse by a senior source close to the discussions, are likely to show there were around 5,100 applications across the UK, compared with 6,031 last year.

If the reduction is consistent across the UK, this would translate to around 4,450 applications in England.

This dramatic reduction reverses a trend of increased numbers of applications since 2011, when there were 5,590 applications, compared with 5,915 in 2012.

The GPC said the figures, announced at a recent meeting of the Committee of GP Education Directors (COGPED), could further exacerbate the current GP recruitment crisis across the UK.

The figures on applications come after Pulse revealed earlier this week that education bosses are looking to cap training numbers in other specialties in future years to push more people into general practice.

In 2013, despite an increase in the number of applications, the number of medical graduates actually starting a GP placement in England only increased by 95 to 2,764, still well short of the Government’s targets.

This year the fall in applications is likely to make a big difference as typically a quarter of the applicants to GP training traditionally fail to make the cut after assessment, and some applications will be made by trainees who will take up other training in another specialty.

Also the figures are also distorted by high numbers of applications in areas such as London, with northern deaneries more likely to be hit hard by the drop in applications.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GP trainees subcommittee, confirmed the 15% figure was correct and that he was concerned about its affect on GP trainee numbers.

He said: ‘We do not know why the figures have gone down. We want to know whether this is a one-off, or is a general trend of numbers going down? If it is, we are in big trouble.

‘We need to get to the 3,250 figure. We need real action to promote general practice. That is just not happening at the moment…. Ten years on, we are still no closer to this target.’

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘These figures are extremely worrying when you consider the Government’s own ambition to significantly increase GP workforce to match its aspirations for delivering care outside hospitals.

‘It is very worrying that general practice is not being seen as an attractive career option and that is because that successive years of disinvestment has resulted in a workforce that is overstretched, lacking in morale and it does not paint an attractive picture for doctors to enter the profession. This needs to be turned around.’  

But a spokesperson for Health Education England said they were still on track to meet their targets on GP numbers: ‘Our mandate requires us to increase the number of GP ST1 training places to 3,250 by next year and we are on track to deliver that. The process for recruitment to posts this year is ongoing.’


Number of applications (versus those filled)

2014 - 5,100 (tbd)

20013 - 6,031 (3237)

2012 - 5,915 (3152)

2011 - 5,590 (3144)

2010 - 5,654 (3372)


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  • Krishna Kasaraneni

Readers' comments (78)

  • To increase applicants they will lower the standards.
    Given the way GP's have been treated, it is any wonder nobody wants to join this once very highly valued profession!
    Doctors trained to be doctors and care for the sick, not puppets to dance to the tunes of puppeteers!

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  • Editor, do you know what percentage of GPs are paid up members of the RCGP?

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  • I would be very interested in more detailed analysis of this data; in particular, the ethnic and IMG breakdown in applications. Only then, will we know if the nMRCGP is one of the factors causing the workforce crisis. Of course there are many factors - VER, pay and conditions, morale, loss of internal locus of control. However, it would be disturbing if there was any evidence to support a reduction of IMG application as a result of RCGP policy. That said, I don't think our hospital colleagues are any better off. They are shackled by bureaucracy as well as being castrated of their autonomy. Please can someone tell me why our unions are not fighting harder for us?

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  • I've not been following the IMG (international medical graduate) issue as I'm not an IMG myself but you don't need an IMG issue to explain why general practice is such an unappealing career choice. Working as a GP in the UK is a truly HORRIBLE experience. If you are considering becoming a GP don't do it! Do something will hate it. Hospital Drs look down on you, an increasing percentage of the population look down on you too..even to my amazement people who come from over seas (they've read about how crap you are in the newspapers at home!) a good part of the job involves managing the governments benefit system and if anything goes wrong its likely that you will be held personally responsible...the default position is that you are crap and need to prove otherwise every time you meet a patient you've not met before...if you cant prove your not crap at your appraisal every year (certificated proof, in writing .. and this isn't cheap by the way) then you run the risk of loosing your job (you are crap by default remember) top it all you're lazy too..and over paid..and 'need to radically reorganise your work style' every 6 months because the the system your've just been forced to get used to 'isn't fit for purpose' ...don't do it...don't do it...your worth more than that and will achieve more good doing something else.

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  • The domino's are beginning to tumble.
    The government is suddenly gong to realise it has a very serious problem.

    Too late as huge numbers of over 55s also abandon a rotten, leaking, sinking, stinking ship.

    coi - age 57 - going soon.

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  • Contrast the above with general practice in Australia: still respected by the public as most GPs provide a hands-on service such as sutures, fracture management, skin cancers, as well as chronic disease management. We're encouraged to do as much as possible in-house, by the fee-for-service system - no point referring to a specialist if you can do it yourself as you will just lose money. Many clinics also charge co-payments to patients, which makes people value what you do a bit more.
    If GP in the UK can retain good people, it has to be radically changed, but does the RCGP, BMA or NHS have the guts to do it?

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  • IMG suffer in any position in uk. I suffered when I was a hospital surgeon (they told me its the neck of the bottle). I moved to general practice (they told me no partnership). I am 53, GP trainer, worked in UK since 1993, worked in Asia , Africa, specialized in uk as a surgeon, I have membership of 2 royal colleges, and currently working a mere salaried GP with the lowest pay, longest hours, exploited by colleague partners, bullied by demanding patients, easy target for patients to complain about as my accent will always dominate, I haven't paid my mortgage yet and not much pension waiting for me either. I wish I chose another country to embrace my career and appreciate my experience and intelligence . I should have left in the 90's but it is the kids and their school what made me chose to sacrifice, not the career opportunity nor the miserable weather nor the £3,000/m take home payment that kept me. so its not CG or the government responsible in sending the profession down. it is you all ( peers and colleagues) and your community and the public and the anti immigration culture which is deteriorating.

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  • Luckily for me i already had MRCP before side stepping into GP.At the time i wanted to gain generalist experience so decided to become a GP.I am sick of being a glorified social worker and benefits clerk.I did not sign up to being a brainless tickboxer when i went into medicine.Well after 10 odd years i have had my fill and am returning back to hospital medicine where the real medicine happens

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  • They tried opening the doors to more GP trainees, and that led to a disaster with large numbers of trainees in difficulty who were unable to cope with general practice.

    This led to an increased failure rate, and burn out in trainers who were unable to make a poor trainee passable. The CSA became the scape goat for many, however the simple fact was that these trainees were never suitable for GP training in the first place.

    You can't blame Clare Gerada or the RCGP for setting an exam where there is a minimum standard to pass. Communication is the key skill needed to be a GP, and either you have adequate skills in this area or you don't.

    The deaneries tightened up the selection process and the failure rates have reduced, as inappropriate candidates are not being let through, so there will be less of an issue in regards trainees failing.

    The issue is that the good candidates will always go where the want, and the rest will be herded into a career they don't want, or are unsuited to.

    Make being a GP attractive, stop the media bashing and make it possible to get a partnership by reintroducing a basic partner allowance, and stop the salaried push to allow private companies in, stop stealing the pensions and driving down GP income - and all of a sudden GP numbers will grow.

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