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DH 'told workforce review to ignore GP numbers'

Exclusive A major review of the primary care workforce was asked not to make any recommendations on GP numbers, as the Government has claimed it was not needed.

The chair of the review has told Pulse he was told not to focus on GP staffing levels following discussions between the Department of Health and Health Education England, who commissioned the report.

This was despite the health secretary at the RCGP conference in October last year promising the review would be an ‘independent study’ on what GPs were required ‘area by area’.

The DH told Pulse that staffing data were published last month on the NHS England website - although Pulse has reported there there are concerns around the accuracy of these data, and the GPC has called for them to be withdrawn.

Mr Hunt made a pre-election commitment that a Conservative government would create an additional 5,000 new GPs – a commitment he has since rolled back on, saying it is now only the ‘maximum’ that will be recruited.

The Primary Care Workforce Commission report, released last week, made a ‘note’ of this committment, but made no concrete recommendations on the GP workforce.

Instead, it largely focussed on recommending other non-GP roles - such as physician associates or pharmacists - who could ease the pressure on GP workloads.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, the chair of the commission, Professor Martin Roland, professor of health sciences at the University of Cambridge, told Pulse that the number of GPs was ‘never in our terms of reference’.

He said: ‘There was a lot of discussion about whether at ought to be, or not, and a decision was made – not by me, between Health Education England and DH - that that was not going to be part of our terms of reference.’

He added that simply recruiting 5,000 more GPs was not enough, and that they should be targeted at underdoctored areas and given more than financial incentives to stay.

He said: ‘That means providing doctors with a feeling that they will get good working lives, that they won’t be isolated, that they’ll be supported and there will be good ongoing education and opportunities.’

When questioned by Pulse, Health Education England said the review had deliberately not been tasked with looking at GP numbers.

A spokesperson said: ‘It is important to look first at the new models of care that will deliver services that patients will want and need in the future before we look at specific numbers of any part of the workforce.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘As part of the secretary of state’s speech on general practice, clinical staffing data was published on the NHS England website last month detailing for the first time the number of GPs per area. Further work will follow.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, told Pulse: ‘The promise made by Jeremy Hunt wasn’t followed through in practice. The data he wanted hasn’t really existed since the days of the Medical Practice Committee that was disbanded years ago.’

Readers' comments (36)

  • This should result in immediate sackings within HEE.
    To allow a review to be used for political expediency is a serious misuse of power and resources.

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  • " A major review of the primary care workforce was asked to make any recommendations on GP numbers"

    is there a "not" missing from that sentence?

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  • This has now been corrected

  • Dear All,
    "It is important to look first at the new models of care that will deliver services that patients will want and need in the future before we look at specific numbers of any part of the workforce.’"

    so we base the entire edifice on an assumption that something new will work even without any evidence it ever has in the past.

    This really is becoming delusional.
    Paul C

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  • If you look at this through the privatisation lens then it is clear that primary care will be replaced by American style health maintenance organisations . The number of Gp's doesn't matter because general practice doesn't matter . That is why it is deliberately deprived of funding .

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  • Jeremy Hunt's promise of 5000 more GP's was never serious . Even if you could find adequate numbers of gullible students there aren't enough trainers .

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  • The american health care model does still depend on GP's , their model is different but it is more expensive as it is risk based.

    One of the drivers in the USA for reform is recognising that unless they reduce the cost of healthcare even the middle classes will not be able to afford health provision.

    Our issues are that we have ideologically obsessed politicians who love the idea of private health care - regardless of the cost or impact

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  • The final nail in the GP coffin? if any one had any doubt that the government do not care for our training, our sanity or our ability to provide healthcare safely and effectively for the local population, I hope you see the facts now. Thank you to the RCGP and the BMA being on our side and protecting our interests, rather than the interests of the patients which we do as GP's (if there will be any left in 5 years) ourselves very well anyway.

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  • The final nail? No we're six foot down with earth being shovelled on top. RIP.

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  • Agree, GP's have been taken off the endangered list to be put on the extinct notice board. Children will now go to the Science Museum to see what it was like to have had your own personal doctor in the bad old days.
    Future: Every area will have a Primary Care Center, run by nurses, staffed by nurses and others, with compulsory rotation posts for junior doctors and compassionate retirement posts for senile doctors.

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  • Ivan Benett

    What a gloomy lot of comments. I wonder if anyone has actually read past the headlines. The vision the Workfoce Commission has outlined is entirely consistent with the joint BMA and RCGP workforce paper published in January this year. Although numbers of GPs nurses etc were not in the remit, it is quite clear that there will need to be a substantial increase, and huge investment. However, in order to argue for the increase we need to have the vision. This report is a great start and the recommendations are thoughful and practical.
    For those apparently writing off GP, look again. This is about revitalising General Practice, developing teams around a practice list, and focusing on individual care.
    General Practice is alive and well, but needs to change to meet the challenges of the future.
    This document is a useful contribution. This vision is the way to avoid, rather than hasten, an American Style system.

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