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GPs go forth

'DH does not know how many GPs are needed', auditors conclude

The Government’s official auditors have questioned the Department of Health’s pledge to create 5,000 new GPs by 2020, accusing it of lacking the data required to understand the workforce needs.

The National Audit Office has told the DH and NHS England that they must improve the quality of data they collect on the GP workforce - which they say is in ‘stark contrast’ to data in secondary care - in order to manage demand.

The report comes after Pulse revealed that a pioneering taskforce, the Primary Care Workforce Commission, set up to look at the issue of GP numbers, had their remit changed to look at future models of GP workforce instead.

The Government has built its health policy around an overhaul of access, with drives to roll out seven-day services across the NHS by 2020, which will require the recruitment of 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 other professionals in support.

But the NAO’s report found that there was little data to support the idea that these 5,000 new GPs will help extend access or manage demand.

It said: ‘The Government has committed to providing an extra 5,000 doctors working in general practice by 2020 to improve access. However, due to the lack of reliable data on the number of consultations, the Department and NHS England do not know how many more GPs are required to meet demand.’

The auditors concluded: ’The Department and NHS England should improve the data they collect on demand and supply in general practice. There are significant gaps in the data available, particularly on the number and type of consultations, in stark contrast to the detailed data available on hospital activity.

’Better data would help with workforce planning and with proactively managing demand.’

It also called on the CCGs and NHS England to help manage patient demand by ’improv[ing] patient awareness of when to use GP services, or when to use alternatives like pharmacists or self-care’.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘Jeremy Hunt initially set up the Primary Care Workforce Commission to work out the number of GPs required to meet current and future needs but subsequently their remit changed. There is also very poor information on vacancies in general practice the new workforce survey may help provide better information about this.’

An NHS England spokesman said: ’Real terms spending on general practice has increased every year since NHS England was established, following two years of decline, and the vast majority of patients have reported a positive experience when accessing general practice.

’This year we are investing an extra £126 million to improve access to general practice as well as working closely with our partners to expand the primary care workforce and further benefit patients.’

Readers' comments (13)

  • It might just be that they don't want to know...

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  • You can only increase the workforce if people want to work in the specialty . Improve conditions and they will come.

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  • The VAST majority experience access to GP in a positive way . So why do we need 7 day access ?

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  • Even finding out how many GPs we have in our county is difficult so I can see why the DH struggles. Its not a good situation and contrasts with the hospitals who have really good workforce data

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  • An extra £126 million to increase access for a year. Thats £2:52 per patient in England.

    Great that'll do nicely.
    Paul C

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  • Oh Lord, where do I bang my head?

    The last thing we need is the DoH demanding constant reports of statistics about supply and demand, practice managers are at the edge of the cliff with demand by DoH, NHSE, CCGs for data to justify the bureaucrats jobs. We haven't got the time or the staff. Another stupid huge pointless data demand will be the last straw for some, so take this idea and shove it up where the sun doesn't shine.

    What alien from another galaxy came up with the idea that we should "manage patient demand by ’improv[ing] patient awareness of when to use GP services, or when to use alternatives like pharmacists or self-care". Every 6 months some bureaucrat trots this out and tries it, it has been tried and tried and tried so many times over so many decades, it doesn't work, it never has, it never will.

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  • Bob Hodges

    Anyone would think that the DoH didn't have a bloody clue.

    I've certainly never had that impression in the past.


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  • There will never be enough data to understand the needs of primary care workforce as some much of it is immeasurable e.g. listening, compassion, reflecting, discussion. To quote a well known adage - what can be measured is not important. What is important, can't be measured

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  • The government ideology is best to NOT know as the promise of 5000 extra GP`s would not be questioned!!!
    Ironically if one looks at the McKinsey presentation to DOH in 2014, it suggests "shifting to lower cost channels" for primary care-aka HCA and Nurses (pg 26)

    The worst one is in page 23- To encourage digital adoption to "decrease the availability of non-digital channels".

    So doctors have been reduced from being a pillar of the society to a "non-digital channel".

    Interestingly McKinsey may not have told DOH about an article by themselves that 17% of such major IT changes can put the whole Organization (NHS) in jeopardy!

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  • I would very much appreciate if some one woul tell me if DH or NHS England is GP employer? DH says not claiming GPs are independent contractors and DH does not hold any information about GPs when asked via FOI/SAR. But GMC says otherwise. Thanks

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