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GPC paper declares workforce ‘crisis point’ as training places increase by only 80

Exclusive The number of GP training places in England available for August increased by just 80 on last year, and still 434 short of the target for 2015, as an internal GPC briefing says the workforce gaps in general practice has reached ‘crisis point’.

The GPC paper quotes new figures from the National Recruitment Office, which showed there were 2,896 vacancies are available for the August intake of trainees.

While this inched up from last year’s 2,816 it is still ‘woefully inadequate’ when compared with the Department of Health’s target of 3,250 new training places a year from August 2015.

The latest figures come after it emerged that there was a 15% fall in first-round applicants this year compared to last, suggesting Local Education and Training Boards (LETBs) could struggle to fill even the same number of training posts as were available last year.

And in some of the strongest wording used by the BMA to date, the GPC briefing – drafted by members of the education, training and workforce subcommittees of the BMA – warned that the lack of applicants and the slow growth in GP training places, coupled with the impending large number of expected retirees, created a ‘perfect storm’ for the profession.

The document said: ‘The retirement bulge will occur over the next few years; but in combination with current poor recruitment and concerns over a “brain drain”, the result will be a significant shortfall of GPs, a scenario that could be described as a “perfect storm”.’

It further concluded: ‘The time has come to declare that the workforce gaps in General Practice have reached crisis point.’

It added: ‘Overall the picture would suggest that practices around the UK are unable to recruit and replace GPs. We are dismayed at the deleterious effect of poor recruitment on the stability of practices and patient care. The remaining workforce will face an increasingly uncertain future and an unpleasant and unsustainable present. The effects on patients and profession alike will be catastrophic.’

BMA trainee subcommittee chair Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, who co-wrote the report, said: ‘We’ve been talking about this for a long time, but now we are noticing the real impact – we can feel it in the intensity of work and the finances, we are generally feeling that we are struggling.’

‘In our practice now our waiting time for routine appointments is now two and half weeks whereas even nine months ago it was two days. It feels very different, we’re under a lot of pressure.’

GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash said the latest figures showed recruitment continued to be ‘woefully’ inadequate and repeated demands for a national strategy to address the crisis.

She said: ‘[Recruitment] is woefully inadequate, we cannot even fill the places we currently have, let alone the future projections… which show we are going to need a significant increase in GPs just to stand still.’

‘We’ve been raising this issue and really pushing the need for a national workforce survey and national workforce strategy with targeted funding to support GPs for the last two years and yet here we are and NHS England are still failing to properly address this.’

‘We need an increase in core funding and stability, with investment in premises and staff so we can actually deal with the workload we need to face. That’s the solution the GPC are pushing for them to provide.’

Health Education England was unable to comment at time of publication.