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Efforts to increase GP numbers are being thwarted by a funding crisis in postgraduate education which is hitting training places across the UK.

Deaneries have begun deferring registrar places, leaving GP trainers fallow and prompting course organisers to resign. Expansion plans have also been put on hold in anticipation of budget cuts following massive delays in this year's financial allocations.

The Department of Health admitted no deanery in England has yet received its budget for 2005/6 pending the conclusion of a 'wider review' of NHS finances. Last year GP training suffered cuts some put as high as £50 million.

In Northern Ireland budgets have not been enough to fund agreed numbers of training places.

The deepening workforce crisis is revealed in official

figures which show the number of applicants for vacant principals' posts has fallen from 8.5 to 3.7 over the last four years.

Dr Justin Allen, director of GP postgraduate education for Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland deanery, where registrar posts for February 2006 have been deferred until August, predicted a worsening situation.

'Budgets are under pressure and being cut,' he said. 'The postgraduate training budget tends to be a fairly easy target.'

Chris Jones, business manager for the Northern deanery, warned it was prepared to pull the plug on registrar appointments at short notice if

adequate funding did not

materialise.

'As of today we do not have our allocation,' she said. 'We're keeping this continually under review.'

Dr Kevin Hill, deputy director of postgraduate GP education at the Trent deanery, said it had begun losing trainers and was struggling to maintain places based on last year's reduced funding. 'Capacity is very tight,' he said.

Dr Pat Lane, director of postgraduate GP education for South Yorkshire and South Humber deanery, said 'whispers' of further cuts meant he now expected to go into the red in a bid to maintain places.

'Whenever there are delays of this length it isn't good news,' he said.

The Northern Ireland deanery has received funding for 50 places, despite Government estimates that 75 are needed to maintain GP numbers. It has had to cut back on car allowances to fund places.

Dr Maureen Baker, honorary secretary of the RCGP, said there was an urgent need for funds to be allocated. 'It is quite absurd we are now 16 weeks into the financial year and deaneries have received no allocation of funding to support GP training,' she said

By Rob Finch

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