The Government’s official auditors have questioned the Department of Health’s pledge to create 5,000 new GPs by 2020, accusing it of lacking the data required to understand the workforce needs.
The National Audit Office has told the DH and NHS England that they must improve the quality of data they collect on the GP workforce – which they say is in ‘stark contrast’ to data in secondary care – in order to manage demand.
The report comes after Pulse revealed that a pioneering taskforce, the Primary Care Workforce Commission, set up to look at the issue of GP numbers, had their remit changed to look at future models of GP workforce instead.
The Government has built its health policy around an overhaul of access, with drives to roll out seven-day services across the NHS by 2020, which will require the recruitment of 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 other professionals in support.
But the NAO’s report found that there was little data to support the idea that these 5,000 new GPs will help extend access or manage demand.
It said: ‘The Government has committed to providing an extra 5,000 doctors working in general practice by 2020 to improve access. However, due to the lack of reliable data on the number of consultations, the Department and NHS England do not know how many more GPs are required to meet demand.’
The auditors concluded: ’The Department and NHS England should improve the data they collect on demand and supply in general practice. There are significant gaps in the data available, particularly on the number and type of consultations, in stark contrast to the detailed data available on hospital activity.
’Better data would help with workforce planning and with proactively managing demand.’
It also called on the CCGs and NHS England to help manage patient demand by ’improv[ing] patient awareness of when to use GP services, or when to use alternatives like pharmacists or self-care’.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘Jeremy Hunt initially set up the Primary Care Workforce Commission to work out the number of GPs required to meet current and future needs but subsequently their remit changed. There is also very poor information on vacancies in general practice the new workforce survey may help provide better information about this.’
An NHS England spokesman said: ’Real terms spending on general practice has increased every year since NHS England was established, following two years of decline, and the vast majority of patients have reported a positive experience when accessing general practice.
’This year we are investing an extra £126 million to improve access to general practice as well as working closely with our partners to expand the primary care workforce and further benefit patients.’