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Revealed: 6% drop in GP training applications this year

Exclusive Applications for GP training have fallen for a second successive year, striking a huge blow for the recruitment of future GPs to relieve the pressure on practices, Pulse can reveal.

The national figures, which Health Education England has refused to release but have been obtained by Pulse, show a fall of 6.2% on last year, with only 5,112 applicants in total.

They come as a major blow to the medium-term future of the NHS, with all political parties and NHS England acknowledging that boosting GP numbers is essential if the health service is to adapt to a changing population and a shift of care from hospitals to the community.

The GPC has estimated previously that typically fewer than half of these applicants will ultimately take up places on GP training scheme, while local leaders have claimed that only 50% of training places in some areas have been filled so far.

But HEE claims that it is still ‘well on course’ to hit its Government-mandated target of having 3,250 GPs in training by August 2016, which itself was pushed back from August 2015

Today’s figures – which show the numbers of graduates applying for the first round of GP recruitment from 11 November to 4 December last year – continue a decline in GP recruitment in England.

Last year, only 2,688 graduates were recruited – 12% below the target figure – despite HEE running an ‘unprecedented’ third round of recruitment.

They will also heap more pressure on recruitment and retention strategies highlighted at the start of the year in NHS England’s £10m GP workforce strategy, which recommended financial incentives to attract new GPs to areas of poor recruitment, and which has already seen NHS England adverts placed in Australian medical journals encouraging emigrant GPs to come home.

The figure was contained in a board update from Health Education England’s East of England training board and a Health Education England spokesperson told Pulse that ‘the 5,112 [applications] figure is correct for this year’.

But they added this was not an indication of how many places would ultimately be filled, while the numbers of positions filled will only become clear when round 1 is finished on 26 March.

They said: ‘We cannot confirm recruitment information as we are half way through the process and a full comparison to previous rounds is not available.

‘Our mandate from the Government requires us to provide 3,250 GP training places by 2016. We are well on course to achieve that number and are working hard on a variety of initiatives to ensure general practice is seen as an exciting and interesting career choice for trainees.’

But GPC says that this latest drop in applications suggest that the number of positions filled next year could be even lower.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GPC education and workforce subcommittee, said: ‘The BMA is concerned that a shortfall of GPs is adding to the pressure on GP services and impeding patient care. We are working with the NHS England and HEE to find solutions to the issues, but we do believe that politicians of all parties need to provide additional support to enable more GPs to join the NHS workforce.’

Pulse can also reveal that the regional picture is variable, with GP leaders some areas – such as the Thames Valley – suggesting they had seen improvements on last year, while Dr Chris Hewitt, medical executive director of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC said he understood that Health Education East Midland filled only 50% of places at selection centre last week.

The figures follows the findings of an RCGP survey highlighting critical variation in GP workforce across the country that could see some areas requiring 50% more GPs in five years’ time

Last year a Government commissioned GP taskforce report on tackling the recruitment crisis recommended axing 2,000 hospital training places in over subscribed areas to free up funding for GP training.

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