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Top universities failing to produce enough future GPs, says head of recruitment

Exclusive The top universities in the country are not doing enough to produce future GPs and are adding to a recruitment crisis in the profession, the chair of the GP National Recruitment Office has warned.

Professor Bill Irish, a GP in Bristol, said that older medical schools - such as those at Oxford, Cambridge and in London - were not doing enough to train the best candidates for a GP specialist place, despite a national shortage of GPs.

Speaking exclusively to Pulse in this week’s Big Interview, Professor Irish - who chairs a group on workforce as part of a Government taskforce on boosting GP numbers - said there had been a steady increase in GP training places, but admitted they were ‘a way off the target’ set by the Department of Health to boost the number of GP trainees by 20% by 2015.

He said the taskforce was looking at figures showing that general practice was not often a ‘first choice of career’ and there were ‘big differences’ between medical schools in the number that choose to take up the profession.

His warning comes as Pulse revealed vacancy rates in general practice have quadrupled in two years, leading to claims of a looming workforce crisis in the profession.

Professor Irish told Pulse: ‘Certain medical schools have a very low output of GPs, and others - particularly the new ones - have a very high output.’

‘There is something around the way those medical schools choose students, or something about the curriculum, or the hidden curriculum  - the things they are told in their training – that pushes people one way or another.’

‘The Ivy League equivalent - the Russell Group universities - tend to put a lot of emphasis on academic achievement and the production of biomedical sciences, which, while important, doesn’t fit closely with most people’s ideas of general practice. We need to be looking at people who are slightly more rounded, more mature with a more holistic view of medicine.’

He added: ‘It takes many years to make these changes. But I would make the point that medical schools are largely funded by Government… it is incumbent on medical schools to produce the kind of trainee we want.’

Professor Irish cited a 2011 study in the British Journal of General Practice that showed only 11.9% graduates from Oxford and Cambridge cited general practice as their first choice career path. In London, the figure was 19.4% and the figure for other long-established medical schools was 23.3%.

However, in new medical schools - such as East Anglia and Brighton & Sussex - 27.6% of students cited general practice as their first choice.

Professor Michael Goldacre, who is a professor of public health at the University of Oxford and one of the authors of the BJGP study, said: ‘One explanation is the characteristics of the students who successfully get into the Russell Group. Oxford and Cambridge would say they recruit students who have a strong biological science orientation.’

‘The other explanation is the way careers in general practice are marketed by medical schools and some will be stronger in promoting general practice than others.’

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GPC GP registrars subcommittee, said: ‘We need to publicise that general practice is a rewarding career. That message doesn’t seem to be getting across to medical students at the moment.’

The Russell Group which represents a number of leading universities was unable to provide comment in time for publication.


Pulse Live: 30 April - 1 May, Birmingham

Stephen Dorrell, chair of the House of Commons health select committee, will be talking about where general practice will fit into the NHS of the future at Pulse Live, Pulse’s new two-day annual conference for GPs, practice managers and primary care managers.

Pulse Live offers practical advice on key clinical and practice business topics, as well as an opportunity to debate the future of the profession, and a top range of speakers includes NICE chair designate Professor David Haslam, GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey and the Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP, chair of the House of Commons health committee.

To find out more and book your place, please click here.