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Government ‘in denial’ about GP workforce crisis, warns former minister

Exclusive A former health minister has warned that the Government is in denial when it comes to GP workforce shortages.

The comments, from Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, come as the Department of Health failed to address House of Commons Health Committee concerns over GP shortages.

The committee, of which Mr Bradshaw is a member, had warned that the GP-in-A&E streaming scheme – which NHS England is rolling out to all emergency departments by next winter – is ‘unlikely to be sustainable’ given GP shortages.

But the DH ignored the warning, responding instead that the scheme had already proved a success in a pilot area.

The health committee warned that ‘there needs to be much greater investigation into the risk of creating supply-induced demand’ as a result of the scheme and added that ‘given the shortfall in GP numbers, it is unlikely to be sustainable to operate several parallel systems for out-of-hours GP access.

It told the DH that they they needed to ‘consider the wider impact on primary care provision for patients as well as for A&E’, but the Government’s response failed to mention the GP shortfall, merely arguing that the model has worked elsewhere.

The DH said: ‘A&E streaming is a model that has been effective in Luton and Dunstable University Hospital and we believe has wider applicability in a significant number of trusts.’

But Pulse has revealed that Luton and Dunstable University Hospital employs two to three GPs every day of the year and if the model is rolled out nationwide to the 139 trusts with major A&E departments, between 278 and 417 GPs would need to be working in A&Es on any one day.

Mr Bradshaw, who was a health minister in Gordon Brown’s Labour government, said the response signalled the Government’s ‘denial’ of the GP workforce crisis.

The MP further suggested that the Government’s latest bid to fulfil its pledge to boost the GP workforce, by recruiting around 2,000 GPs from the EU and other overseas locations, was bound for failure.

The Exeter MP told Pulse: ‘The Government is in complete denial about the recruitment and retention crisis facing our GP services.

‘It is even now admitting it will have to try to attract thousands of new GPs from other EU countries, to fill the shortfall, which will be impossible under the hard Brexit being pursued by Mrs May.’

It comes as hospital bosses have warned that they will not be able to sustain the streaming services beyond next winter unless the Government puts more cash into the scheme. 

Will A&Es be able to staff GP streaming services?

NHS Providers, the representative body for trusts, said that the likely continued cost of the scheme will between £500,000 and £1m per hospital, each year – resources which NHS trusts simply do not have to spare.

The Spring Budget pledged £100m to set up the service across England before next winter, but the Treasury has made no mention of ongoing funding for the scheme, which NHS bosses hope will reduce unsustainable pressure on emergency departments.

GPs have also questioned what level of experience the A&E streaming GPs will bring, since NHS England has instructed hospital trusts not to pay more than £80 per hour.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey has warned that the GP-in-A&E streaming service will simply ‘act as a magnet to draw in more patients to hospital-based services’.