Education bosses have backed further discussion over extending GP training to four years in a new 10-year workforce plan.
The strategy, which sets out the NHS workforce agenda across all specialisms, says that Health Education England will ‘further evaluate’ the case for one extra year of GP training compared to the current three.
The HEE plan, released today, says: ‘General Practice is currently the shortest specialty training programmes and HEE believes that we should further evaluate, with partners, the case for an extra training year.’
Four-year training has been an RCGP priority for several years and was backed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt until 2014 when realisation of the scale of the workforce crisis saw ministers kick plans into the long grass.
The document also commits to opening 1,000 medical school places in universities that encourage ‘more students to choose shortage specialties, such as general practice and psychiatry’.
The Department of Health announced in March that medical schools, which aim to boost GP trainee uptake by exposing students to general practice, could see extra funding.
However, it was later revealed that just a third of the 1,500 new medical school places will be funded next year, while the DH consults on ‘how to make available’ the remaining 1,000 places ‘from 2019/20’.
The HEE workforce strategy clarifies that 500 of the additional places have already been allocated with the new students to start in September 2018.
It adds: ‘The remaining 1,000 places are subject to a competitive process to ensure this increase in supply of doctors meets the needs of the NHS.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We are encouraged to see the emphasis on general practice, particularly the proposals for enhanced GP specialty training to include a fourth year focused in the general practice setting.
‘This is something that the College has long been campaigning for and will undoubtedly make our new GPs of the future more confident as well as competent in managing the complexity that is modern day general practice.’
She added that the call for an extra year of training is ‘timely’ as workload for GPs ‘has risen by 16% over the last seven years, while the GP workforce has remained largely stagnant’.
However, Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee lead on education, training and workforce, warned that the Government’s target of adding 5,000 GPs to the workforce ‘is nowhere near being reached’.
He said: ‘The latest figures, as indicated in the consultation report itself, showed a decline in GP numbers in England once again that has reduced the overall headcount to 2012 levels.
‘We will be responding to this consultation and urging politicians to redouble their efforts to bring more GPs into the NHS, as well as looking at the proposals on GP training.’
This comes after official figures released last month revealed a drop in the number of GPs, with 1,000 fewer GPs in the workforce this year compared to last year.
According to the workforce strategy, in a ‘do nothing’ scenario, which considers recent trends in productivity, the NHS will need 190,000 additional posts by 2027.
However, the plan adds: ‘If additional supply were to continue at the rate that we have seen between 2012 and 2017, then an additional 72,000 staff could be expected to join the NHS.’
The strategy is open for consultation until March 2018, after which HEE will draft a final workforce plan to be released in July 2018.