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Training practices set for funding boost as official report endorses premises grants worth £20,000

Exclusive GP trainers will be able to apply for grants of up to £20,000 from their local education boards for premises improvements under recommendations made by an official training taskforce group, Pulse has learnt.

The long-awaited report from the GP taskforce, commissioned by Health Education England, will recommend that local education and training boards (LETBs) fund premises improvements to increase capacity for taking on more trainees among a wide range of recommendations.

The move follows similar schemes adopted by Wessex and Thames Valley Local Education and Training Boards (LETBs), in which practices received the grants for ‘capital infrastructure development’ to create space for more registrars.

GP leaders welcomed the move, saying lack of capacity was a ‘big problem’ and that many practices would like to take on further trainees but don’t have the room.

The report is aimed at helping solve the recruitment crisis in general practice, which is seeing training numbers fall well below Government targets.

This is one of 25 recommendations on recruitment and retention of GPs being put forward by a GP ‘task force’, which is led by Wessex deanery chief Dr Simon Plint, as part of a wide-ranging review of workforce planning, which is due to be published ‘imminently’ according to the reports’ authors

The recommendation – which has been seen by Pulse – calls on LETBs to fund ‘capital investment programmes… of around £10-20k per project’ to allow for extra capacity.

It will also recommend capping the number of trainees entering non-GP specialties to alleviate the recruitment crisis, as Pulse first revealed earlier this year.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said: ‘This would be a good idea and one that has been tried at various times in the past not just in Wessex but elsewhere in the country. The problem has always been limited availability of funding and that will need to be urgently addressed if this is to be successful in the future. There are many practices that want to take up training or expand their training capacity but they can’t do so because of lack of availability of consulting rooms. This is a big problem and does need to be addressed.’

However, Dr Andrew Mimnagh, a GP in Sefton, Merseyside, said the proposal will fail to help recruitment in areas where there is a lack of demand for training places.

He said: ‘It is very worthy that educators are trying to pull the levers they have, but it’s not the right levers for the global solution.

‘In harder-to-recruit, less favourable areas like Merseyside, no amount of building improvements will get bodies to fill the clinical space, and leafy places with good recruitment will expand into extra rooms.’

‘It’s very welcome but it will come at a price – it will lead to a two-tier training system and it will not address the overall crisis because there aren’t enough people coming into the profession as a whole.’

The original scheme saw Wessex LETB give grants worth over £350,000 to around 20 practices in 2012-2013 for new trainee places on 16 additional training programmes by 2015.

Dr Nigel Watson, chair of Wessex LMC, who also sits on the LETB, told Pulse earlier this year that he knew of 20 practices – including his own – who had been given grants of up to £20,000.

He added: ‘[Wessex LETB] has been trying to expand the number of training premises, the availability of suitable premises. They have given grants to surgeries to convert additional consulting rooms. My own practice use to have one registrar, but now we have two. We looked at a meeting room and made it smaller to make a consulting room for the other registrar.’

The task force report comes as deaneries continue to struggle to fill training quotas for GP training posts.

Figures due to be released by the National Recruitment Office show there has been a 15% drop in the number of medical graduates applying for training places this year, dealing another major blow to the Government’s aim to recruit 3,250 GP trainees every year from 2015.

Pulse had revealed that deaneries only managed to sign up 2,764 new trainees last year.

A spokesperson for Health Education England said: ‘The GP Taskforce report was commissioned before the establishment of Health Education England. However, although it takes a very specific GP view, it will be helpful information  to consider as part of our work with partners  like NHS England around the wider primary care workforce as set out in our mandate and it will be published on our website in due course as one of the resources for this wider work.’