Health secretary Matt Hancock has admitted he is in talks with NHS bosses about setting a new date for the target of recruiting an extra 5,000 GPs in England.
His comments come amid the Government’s failure to make progress towards the 2020 pledge, made by his predecessor Jeremy Hunt three years ago.
According to the latest official data, there are currently nearly 1,400 fewer full-time-equivalent GPs compared with 2015.
Earlier this year, Mr Hunt admitted that the Government was ‘struggling to deliver’ the pledge.
And, speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference earlier this week, Mr Hancock said there currently was no ‘date’ for when it would become a reality.
He said: ‘I’m totally committed to the 5,000 target of more GPs… The timeline is as soon as possible.
‘As you know the original commitment was to do it by 2020 since then we’ve gone backwards, we’ve got a thousand fewer and Jeremy Hunt… said that we weren’t going to hit that target, so it’s as soon as possible.
‘I’m talking to Simon Stevens about how quickly he thinks that’s feasible before putting a date on it.’
He added that although Health Education England (HEE) has recruited ‘record numbers of new GPs going into the profession… we’ve got too many people leaving or moving from full time to part time’.
HEE bosses announced in June that they have recruited more GP trainees than ever before and expect to hit their target of 3,250 to start training this year.
But according to official data nearly seven in ten GPs are now working less than full time – a proportion that has increased over the last five years.
But speaking in a video message to the annual RCGP conference this morning, Mr Hancock said that although meeting the GP recruitment target ‘has proved difficult to say the least’, ‘I’m telling you today that I am going to make it happen’.
Failing to allude to a potential delay to the pledge, he added: ‘Some say we don’t need more GPs because we need to change the model. I completely disagree. We need more GPs and we need more people in primary care practices supporting GPs.’
But BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that ‘the target remains important’, adding: ‘what we need to be focusing on is retaining the existing workforce’.
‘We need to be tackling the fundamental issues that impact on recruitment and retention. Issues like indemnity and workload pressure particularly.’