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GP shortage ‘biggest threat’ to commissioning, warns Tory MP

The impending shortage of GPs in the workforce is the ‘biggest threat’ to the success of clinical commissioning, a leading GP turned MP has warned.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes, and member of the health select committee, said the system has been training too many hospital specialists and not enough GPs, and called for a campaign to favour those medical students who understand the benefits of going into general practice.

Speaking to Pulse at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Dr Wollaston said that going forward, half of medical students would need to go into general practice to address the shortage.

‘For me the real issue is GP numbers,’ she explained.’

‘I have made a number of presentations in Parliament about it because if we look at the crisis we have got coming up in the workforce, the biggest barrier as I see it, the biggest threat to commissioning is going to be high quality commissioners having the time spared from their clinical commitments because their first priority is always going to be to their patients.

‘If they can’t find locums or have the support from their partners to get involved in commissioning then that is going to be a problem.’

Dr Wollaston added: ‘We have known that there is a workforce issue coming for some time now. In the southwest there is a 12% vacancy rate which was unheard of in the past. In five years we will have a retirement bulge. We have increasing numbers of female GP which is great but we all know leads to more part time working. For years now we have trained too many hospital specialists, for which there are no jobs.’

Meanwhile, newly appointed health minister Dr Dan Poulter, had earlier told a fringe event that clinical commissioning would solve the problem of funding shortages in primary care.

Dr Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk, and North Ipswich, and a former obstetrician, said: ‘GPs are going to be leading the way as to what commissioning looks like. And part of that, CCGs will be holding the purse strings and will be looking at how, through clinical leadership, that can actually benefit patients but also reduce costs as well. In my part of the world, we already had clinical leadership in Suffolk which had reduced inappropriate admissions of old people by 15%.’

‘So I think it is good that GPs and nurses and CCGs are going to be holding the money and we have seen how that can work very effectively to both meet the Nicholson challenge but most importantly deliver better care for patients.’