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Hunt says there will be 'flexibility' in 5,000 GP target

Exclusive The Government’s target to introduce an additional 5,000 GPs by 2020 will involve a degree of ‘flexibility’, the health secretary said, but the DH denied this represented a watering down of the Conservatives’ election manifesto pledge.

At the launch of the new deal at a south-west London super practice, Jeremy Hunt told attendees in a question-and-answer session that the Government was committed to a ‘net increase’ in GPs.

However, he added that this will include flexibility for other primary care staff, such as practice nurses and physician associates, to boost numbers due to recruitment problems in some parts of England.

DH spokespersons stressed to Pulse that it was fully committed to the target of 5,000 new GPs by 2020, but refused to provide further comment.

The new deal pledged 5,000 more primary care staff, including pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician associates, in addition to the Conservative’s election pledge to provide 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

GPs have already expressed doubt about whether the target of 5,000 more GPs is feasible, especially as the Government is already struggling to meet the current target of 3,250 medical students entering GP training by 2016 after a drop in applications for training places saw 12% of places unfilled last year.

And Mr Hunt appeared to concede that he will need ‘flexibility’ in this target.

It was in response to a question from Dr Martyn Wake, medical director at the Nelson Health Centre, who asked: ‘When we talk about figures increase, will these figures be net… do they take into account workforce turnover, change and retirement?’

Mr Hunt answered: ‘We’ve got Ian Cummings, from Health Education England, who have done a lot of the work behind this. And we are planning for this to be an increase in the total GP workforce, we’ve said we are planning this to be an increase in the total GP workforce.

‘We’ve said that we want the overall increase in the primary care workforce to be around 10,000 of which we anticipate around half will be GPs. But we are leaving some flexibility because in some parts of the country it is very hard to recruit GPs.’

He added that these areas could do more with developing ‘new workforce mixes’ using practice nurses and physician associates.

In his speech announcing the new deal, Mr Hunt noted an additional 300 applicants for the second round of GP training.

But Pulse has already reported this is a result of a rule change to allow previously unsuccessful applicants to reapply in year, while the 300 applicants only negate the drop in applications in the first round of this year’s intake, which closed with 65% of places unfilled in some parts of the country so far.

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Readers' comments (20)

  • Capture all the headlines "5000 new GPs" - then later reveal this was not what I meant. The spinning is spun, the media are squared- job well done.

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  • Sets the precedent - if you cannot recruit GPs then just recruit physician's associates i.e. it's not a problem that there will not be enough GPs

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  • Please SOS can we have flexibility reaching our targets,oh sorry I thought not.No seven day working without you providing the service the resources needed to provide it IE GPs.Idiot!

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  • He's discovered that there are not enough trainers . ( Assuming there are people who want to train as GP's . ) Have read some comments from BBC website by medical students - those that posted didn't seem too keen.

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  • He has not promised 5000 more GPs capacity, he has promised 5000 more in the "total GP workforce", which can mean no increase in capacity whatsoever. You have to read the words very carefully.
    For example, 5,000 full time GPs leave, 10,000 1/2 time GPs join, there is an increase of 5000 in the total GP workforce, box ticked, JH claims target met Daily hate Mail is happy. But the increase in capacity is zero.

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  • It is clear that Mr Hunt and his advisers have no idea at all about how to deal with the ever growing demand for services. If the department wants patients to be seen 24/7 and sometimes this will be by other professional groups and not doctors, then they need to be open and honest with the voting public, rather than spin inaccuracy over increases in GP capacity which everyone knows is rubbish. The public need to understand that they may not see a doctor when they call either in or out of hours. For some this may be fine and acceptable, for others this may be worrying.

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  • i will exercise my flexibility to refuse this "deal"

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  • 'Flexibility' is his new loophole when turns out that this is how he will explain the miserable failure to what 'We've said..' which is a term so often repeated that it begins to seem ludicrous

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  • he will just put mirrors up in every room to give the illusion of more staff

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  • When he means flexibility he means there have been zero applicants all over in round two this year

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