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Four-year training ‘should be staggered’ to prevent GP shortfall

Exclusive The introduction of four-year training may have to be staggered as the profession is facing a shortfall of 2,500 qualified GPs in one year, Pulse has learnt.

A Government adviser told Pulse the introduction of four-year training - which could begin as early as next year - had to be planned carefully in order to prevent a ‘workforce crisis’ that would hit already overworked practices.

The BMA said that they were fully supportive of four-year training, but had concerns that there would be a ‘lag period’ during which practices would struggle to recruit new GPs.

The warnings came as ministers considered the proposals for four-year training, following sign-off of the RCGP’s plans by Medical Education England in October.

The BMA GP Trainees Subcommittee met the RCGP and the Committee of General Practice Education Directors (COGPED) last week to discuss proposals to lengthen GP training to four years.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the BMA GP Trainees Subcommittee, said the move to four-year training would be a ‘positive experience’ for GPs, but they would be looking at the implications of the shortfall in trainees in future meetings.

Dr Kasaraneni said: ‘The intake will remain the same, at around 2,600. Assuming 95% pass the training, all that will happen is that the output for one year will be very minimal. It is only the ones who are out of synch. For a year there will be a lag period.

‘Without getting a huge number of CCTs in that one year, some practices may struggle to replace retired GPs. We are already hearing about increasing work in general practice in general but if you don’t then have newly qualified GPs coming out, some practices who are hoping to recruit may struggle a bit more.’

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Professor Bill Irish, who is director of GP Education at the Severn Deanery and chairs a Government taskforce on GP recruitment and retention, said: ‘It is an issue. The bottom line is that it would need to be staggered over a period of a few years.

‘The earliest we can recruit for is 2014 so we are talking about those people supposed to be coming out in 2017. That gives us plenty of time to make sure there is not a workforce crisis. It may be that we need to stagger the recruitment to make sure it won’t happen.’

The move follows a similar warning by a Government-commissioned report last year, that said extending GP training to four years would create a ‘sudden and significant drop’ in the supply of GPs.

The proposals for four-year training, developed by the College, aim to ‘ensure that GP training keeps up with the demands of an increasingly challenging and complex environment’. The College says: ‘The extra year of dedicated general practice training will mean that the next generation of GPs is ready to meet the needs of a changing population, and the practical challenges that the NHS presents.’

Professor Mayur Lakhani, former chair of the RCGP, said there must be careful planning to prevent any ‘hiatus’ in the supply of GPs.

He said: ‘Some work needs to be done around that because there will be a year when there will be a gap. With careful planning we may be able to prepare for that.’