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DH ‘told workforce review to ignore GP numbers’



Exclusive A major review of the primary care workforce was asked not to make any recommendations on GP numbers, as the Government has claimed it was not needed.

The chair of the review has told Pulse he was told not to focus on GP staffing levels following discussions between the Department of Health and Health Education England, who commissioned the report.

This was despite the health secretary at the RCGP conference in October last year promising the review would be an ‘independent study’ on what GPs were required ‘area by area’.

The DH told Pulse that staffing data were published last month on the NHS England website – although Pulse has reported there there are concerns around the accuracy of these data, and the GPC has called for them to be withdrawn.

Mr Hunt made a pre-election commitment that a Conservative government would create an additional 5,000 new GPs – a commitment he has since rolled back on, saying it is now only the ‘maximum’ that will be recruited.

The Primary Care Workforce Commission report, released last week, made a ‘note’ of this committment, but made no concrete recommendations on the GP workforce.

Instead, it largely focussed on recommending other non-GP roles – such as physician associates or pharmacists – who could ease the pressure on GP workloads.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, the chair of the commission, Professor Martin Roland, professor of health sciences at the University of Cambridge, told Pulse that the number of GPs was ‘never in our terms of reference’.

He said: ‘There was a lot of discussion about whether at ought to be, or not, and a decision was made – not by me, between Health Education England and DH – that that was not going to be part of our terms of reference.’

He added that simply recruiting 5,000 more GPs was not enough, and that they should be targeted at underdoctored areas and given more than financial incentives to stay.

He said: ‘That means providing doctors with a feeling that they will get good working lives, that they won’t be isolated, that they’ll be supported and there will be good ongoing education and opportunities.’

When questioned by Pulse, Health Education England said the review had deliberately not been tasked with looking at GP numbers.

A spokesperson said: ‘It is important to look first at the new models of care that will deliver services that patients will want and need in the future before we look at specific numbers of any part of the workforce.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘As part of the secretary of state’s speech on general practice, clinical staffing data was published on the NHS England website last month detailing for the first time the number of GPs per area. Further work will follow.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, told Pulse: ‘The promise made by Jeremy Hunt wasn’t followed through in practice. The data he wanted hasn’t really existed since the days of the Medical Practice Committee that was disbanded years ago.’