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Hunt says there will be ‘flexibility’ in 5,000 GP target

Exclusive The Government’s target to introduce an additional 5,000 GPs by 2020 will involve a degree of ‘flexibility’, the health secretary said, but the DH denied this represented a watering down of the Conservatives’ election manifesto pledge.

At the launch of the new deal at a south-west London super practice, Jeremy Hunt told attendees in a question-and-answer session that the Government was committed to a ‘net increase’ in GPs.

However, he added that this will include flexibility for other primary care staff, such as practice nurses and physician associates, to boost numbers due to recruitment problems in some parts of England.

DH spokespersons stressed to Pulse that it was fully committed to the target of 5,000 new GPs by 2020, but refused to provide further comment.

The new deal pledged 5,000 more primary care staff, including pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician associates, in addition to the Conservative’s election pledge to provide 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

GPs have already expressed doubt about whether the target of 5,000 more GPs is feasible, especially as the Government is already struggling to meet the current target of 3,250 medical students entering GP training by 2016 after a drop in applications for training places saw 12% of places unfilled last year.

And Mr Hunt appeared to concede that he will need ‘flexibility’ in this target.

It was in response to a question from Dr Martyn Wake, medical director at the Nelson Health Centre, who asked: ‘When we talk about figures increase, will these figures be net… do they take into account workforce turnover, change and retirement?’

Mr Hunt answered: ‘We’ve got Ian Cummings, from Health Education England, who have done a lot of the work behind this. And we are planning for this to be an increase in the total GP workforce, we’ve said we are planning this to be an increase in the total GP workforce.

‘We’ve said that we want the overall increase in the primary care workforce to be around 10,000 of which we anticipate around half will be GPs. But we are leaving some flexibility because in some parts of the country it is very hard to recruit GPs.’

He added that these areas could do more with developing ‘new workforce mixes’ using practice nurses and physician associates.

In his speech announcing the new deal, Mr Hunt noted an additional 300 applicants for the second round of GP training.

But Pulse has already reported this is a result of a rule change to allow previously unsuccessful applicants to reapply in year, while the 300 applicants only negate the drop in applications in the first round of this year’s intake, which closed with 65% of places unfilled in some parts of the country so far.

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