Jeremy Hunt has said he holds himself ‘completely responsible’ for the failure to fulfil his promise of recruiting 5,000 extra GPs.
Mr Hunt, who was health secretary from 2012 to 2018, has done ‘lots of reflection’ on why he could not increase the GP workforce by his promised amount, he told GPs at Pulse Live.
The current chair of the House of Commons health and social care committee made the comments during his keynote interview at Pulse’s flagship conference, held on Monday and Tuesday this week in London.
He told GPs: ‘I did try very hard to address some of the big issues in general practice, and I wasn’t anything like as successful as I wanted to be.
He said that ‘the thing that probably is most notorious in the minds of the audience’ is ‘my promise in 2015 – the first speech I gave after the General Election – to recruit 5,000 GPs by 2020’.
‘When I left office three years later, we’d only got an extra 300. And in fact, since then, we’ve gone backwards, you know, 1,500 fewer GPs,’ Mr Hunt admitted.
He said: ‘I hold myself completely responsible for the failure to deliver that.’
He told GPs he wanted to do it because he ‘really do[es] believe in general practice’, which he said is the ‘best thing about the NHS’.
He said: ‘I’ve done lots of reflection about why I wasn’t successful in that pledge. And I’ve talked about it often because I really do want the Government to be more successful than I was in expanding the capacity of general practice.’
He added that the 5,000 ‘wasn’t a number that was plucked out of the air’, and as secretary of state, ‘you don’t make promises… unless your officials have advised you if it’s possible, and if you’re planning to deliver it.’
The Government ‘all believed that we were going to get an extra 5,000 doctors into general practice’.
Mr Hunt highlighted that he did succeed in reaching his predecessor Andrew Lansley’s target of 3,250 medical graduates going into general practice every year – around half of all medical graduates.
Mr Hunt said: ‘But what happened at the same time, which was not planned, was a very big increase in the number of GPs taking early retirement, or new GPs deciding to go part-time, or older GPs deciding to go part-time.
‘And we didn’t expect that to happen. And I think that’s what we have to think hardest about,’ he told Pulse editor Jaimie Kaffash.
Last year more than a third of GPs were considering early retirement within a year, a BMA survey found.
Current health secretary Sajid Javid said the Government would ‘wait and see’ where it gets to with the number of GPs by its target year of 2025, though he admitted they were on track to fail.
Meanwhile, the BMA said GPs have been led to ‘despair’ after MPs have again rejected a Health and Care Bill amendment mandating Government transparency on the NHS workforce.
MPs had previously voted against a similar amendment to the Bill proposed by Mr Hunt.
The health select committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the future of general practice.