The health secretary has admitted that the GP workforce shortage needs to be addressed, after being confronted by a Tory MP on the issue.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, a former GP and now MP for Totnes in Devon, asked Jeremy Hunt to address the issue of primary care capacity during a debate where he defended his position that ‘inaccessible’ GPs cause unsustainable pressures on A&E departments.
Dr Wollaston asked the health secretary: ‘If someone cannot get an appointment with their family doctor, they are undoubtedly more likely to end up in A&E, but does the Secretary of State agree that we will not increase capacity in primary care unless we address the work force shortage in general practice and broaden the skill mix of those who can see people in primary care?’
Mr Hunt responded: ‘I agree with my honourable friend. Under this Government, we have 6,000 more doctors than we had under Labour, but we need more people going into general practice as well.’
He added: ‘One way of making general practice more attractive is to restore the personal link between GPs and the people on their list and a sense of personal responsibility and accountability. We need to find the right way of doing that, given the pressures on general practice at the moment, and I hope to work with her and many others to do that.’
The statement marks a departure from the Department of Health submission to the Doctors and Dentists Review Body last year which addressed recruitment, retention and workforce issues with a report that GP numbers were growing.
Mr Hunt’s comments come as he is expected to announce plans tomorrow that could see GPs resuming responsibility for out-of-hours care in their contract.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘When you look at the choices young doctors are making [for their career], A&E and general practice are in the bottom three of the list of specialties. We know that in future we will need more GPs to meet the demands of the population health. The answer has to be investment in general practice.’
RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada said: ‘We need more GPs spending more time with their patients in their community.’