Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has cast doubt on long-term plans to extend GP training, because of the difficulties it will cause for the Government’s pledge to introduce an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020.
Mr Hunt’s comments, made at a House of Commons health committee meeting today, are the latest blow to the plans for four-year training, which was endorsed by a Department of Health body in 2012, and was expected to be rolled out this year.
The health secretary said that the priority was to increase the workforce by 5,000 GPs and adding another year to training ‘makes it more difficult to deliver that commitment’.
The RCGP has been pushing for four-year training since 2012, and the Medical Education UK Scrutiny Group, which had representation from the Government of the four UK nations, gave its support to the plans in November 2013.
Under the proposals, GPs would have an extra year of training, in part to train them to deal better with mental health problems.
However, Pulse revealed in February 2014 that the plans were delayed by the DH, who said it would outline its position in a response to the Shape of Medical Training report, which had been released the previous year.
But the DH did not outline its position, and MPs on the health committee quizzed Mr Hunt today about how GP training in mental health issues will be improved.
He said that the Department of Health was ‘having ongoing discussions with the RCGP about how to incorporate that into training’.
However, he suggested that the Government was dropping plans for four-year training.
He said: ’One of the proposals is to take an extra year to do it. But obviously we have another priority, which is a very big priority for GPs, which is to get 5,000 more GPs into the workforce – a net increase of 5,000 GPs – and if you add a year to the training requirement for all new GPs it makes it more difficult to deliver that commitment.
‘So if we aren’t able to add that extra year in, because of wanting to make sure we deliver on our 5,000 GPs, then we will need to make sure that the training that new GPs get does reflect the needs, the very real increase in the need they have to be properly trained in mental health areas.’
As part of the four-year programme worked out by the RCGP, GP trainees would spend at least 24 months in primary care based placements, gain experience of general practice early in the training programme and receive specialist-led training in child health and mental health problems.
The RCGP had initially planned to implement four-year training for GPs starting in the summer of 2015, but ministers refused to give the green light in time for that proposed implementation date.
In the light of the GP recruitment crisis, GP leaders have since warned that any rollout of four-year training would have to be staggered to prevent a shortfall of GPs in the areas where the extra year came into effect.