This site is intended for health professionals only

No target date for recruiting 5,000 extra GPs, says health secretary

Exclusive Health secretary Matt Hancock has not set a new date for when the Government should meet its target of adding 5,000 more GPs in the workforce, Pulse has learned.

Mr Hancock told Pulse the target would not be met by 2020 – as former health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged – but a new date has not been set, although he hopes it will be ‘sooner’ than in the next five years.

Earlier this week, the NHS long-term plan re-announced the Government target to increase the GP workforce by 5,000, which it said it was ‘committed to’, but did not specify when this would happen.

In 2015, then health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to add at least 10,000 extra primary care staff, including 5,000 GPs, within five years.

But although NHS England said it was ‘on track’ to recruit the 5,000 other staff, Mr Hunt admitted in June last year he was ‘struggling to deliver’ on GP numbers.

This was after official workforce figures revealed the NHS actually lost 1,000 full-time equivalent GPs between the initial pledge and March last year.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Pulse, Mr Hancock said: ‘The target of 5,000 more GPs than the 2015 figure exists and we’re going to meet it.

‘Clearly the timing of that will be slower than was originally envisaged before my time. But what matters is making sure that we get that figure reached.’

He said while recruitment in terms of training new GPs is ‘actually going quite well’, with record numbers entering GP training this year, ‘the challenge is retention’, especially when it comes to keeping full-time staff and retirement. 

‘The [workforce] plan is on the basis of five years. I would hope that we can meet the 5,000 goal much sooner than that. We haven’t put a date on it. We’re just getting on with it,’ Mr Hancock said.

Mr Hancock’s comments come after he commissioned Baroness Dido Harding to chair a ‘rapid’ review in order to deliver the awaited workforce implementation plan – expected this year.

Addressing questions on the long-term plan in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Hancock said: ‘I have asked Baroness Dido Harding to chair a rapid programme of work, which will engage with staff, employers, professional organisations, trade unions, think-tanks and others to build a workforce implementation plan that puts NHS people at the heart of NHS policy and delivery.’

Interim recommendations will be delivered at the end of March, with final recommendations on how to ‘make the NHS long-term plan a reality’ will be provided ‘later in the year’, he added.

While there was little detail on GP recruitment in the long-term plan – due to the upcoming workforce plan – it did outline changes that will be made to encourage digital GP providers, due to ‘evidence GPs are attracted to the flexibilty’ offered by such providers.