A fifth of GP training places in the UK remain unfilled after two rounds of recruitment according to official figures obtained by Pulse, raising serious questions about Government’s promises to increase the GP workforce.
Data supplied by NHS Education Scotland show that just 80% of the 3,641 available training places across the UK have been filled ahead of the August training intake.
Education bosses in England have refused to confirm that the figures are correct, but they come shortly after the health secretary rolled back on his pre-election commitment to introduce an 5,000 additional GPs by 2020, saying this was only a ‘maximum’.
The figures are disastrous for education bosses and mark a widening shortfall in filled GP training places.
Last year, at the same stage, around 13% of places remained unfilled in England and 11% in Scotland after the unprecedented third round of recruitment – a situation that the GPC described as the ‘worst ever’.
The shortfall comes despite the health secretary boasting there had been 300 more applications to GP training this year in his ‘new deal’ speech, although Pulse later revealed this was because failed applicants had been allowed to retake entry exams.
According to the figures, around 2,918 places have been filled across the UK so far, with a third round of recruitment in England to follow.
No figures were available for England or Wales, but Scotland have filled just 240 of the 305 GP training places on offer, 79% of the total and increase of just 9% on the first round.
Health Education England has yet to publish the vacancies for GPST1 recruitment in England despite the final deadline for training place uptake having passed on 11 June, but these UK-wide figures suggest it will struggle to meet its current target of 3,250 graduates entering general practice by 2016 and there will also be shortfalls a
The Government has been under pressure to provide evidence of how it will achieve it’s pledges to drastically increase GP numbers in England, including a pre-election pledge of 5,000 new GPs by 2020, and it’s already delayed target of 3,250 medical students going into GP training by a year.
Pulse revealed last week that Jeremy Hunt has begun to distance himself from the election promise of 5,000 new GPs when, at the announcement of the ‘new deal for general practice’ two weeks ago, he said: ‘We are leaving some flexibility [in the target] because in some parts of the country it is very hard to recruit GPs.’
And last week he added that 5,000 looked like the ‘maximum’ achievable by 2020.
The DH declined to comment on today’s figures, adding the breakdown of figures for England would be available ‘shortly’.
NHS Education Scotland said that the remaining training places will still be made available for ongoing recruitment with local training boards, and a third round of recruitment will be launched in August for a February 2016 start date.
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GPC workforce and training subcommittee, told Pulse the figures were of ‘significant concern’ to the GPC and said the downward trend in recruitment would not reverse until young doctors could see GPs workload improving and GPs enjoying their work.
He added: ‘Is it surprising that they’re worse than last year? No, because realistically there hasn’t been a great deal of investment – in terms of making things better for general practice- in the last four months, or prior to that.’
‘If last year was the worst ever, this is even worse.’
‘Even when the concept of the new deal was announced with routine seven day working and so on, it goes to show we don’t even have the workforce at present to deal with the normal demands of general practice.’
Deputy chair of GPC Scotland Dr Andrew Buist told Pulse he hoped this would be a wake-up call for politicians.
He said: ‘I hope the Government now are waking up that they’ve got a very, very significant problem on their hands. The figures today don’t really come as a great shock, we knew this was happening.’
‘They really need to start talking up general practice, that’s one of the reasons things are so bad, they’ve been talking us down for the best part of eight years and morale is low. The young doctors, and medical students pick up on that.’