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Lansley agrees 20% rise in GP training places in radical workforce overhaul

Exclusive: Ministers plan to boost the number of GP trainees by 20% over the next three years as part of a radical reshaping of the medical workforce, Pulse can reveal.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said he wanted to see a sharp increase in the proportion of speciality training places taken by GP registrars, from 41% currently to 50% by 2015.

The move is aimed at equipping the medical profession for the shift of workload from hospitals into primary care and addressing severe shortages of GPs, which have seen vacancy rates at practices double in a little over a year.

The Department of Health told Pulse the number of GP training places was scheduled to soar from 2,700 now to 3,250 in three years' time, assuming the overall number of medical specialty places remains at the present level of 6,600. 

A separate Government review is examining how many medical school places should be made available.

GPs strongly welcomed the move – but warned there were still major barriers to overcome to increase the number of doctors undergoing training for general practice, given the sharp fall in applications over the last three years.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley told a Reform conference in London last week: ‘We know we will need a further expansion of the GP workforce – 50% of the newly trained medical workforce in the future will go into general practice.'

Mr Lansley added that he was also backing plans to extend GP training to four years, claiming the move – which is subject to Treasury approval – would ‘help us to get general practice to the place we want'.

The DH said the Government had accepted recommendations from the Centre for Workforce Intelligence for a substantial increase in the number of entry-level GP training posts. 

Ministers also met with the RCGP earlier this month to discuss plans to address the severe shortage of GPs on the ground, with a particular emphasis on getting more GPs working across London.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘The Centre for Workforce Intelligence recommended there should be 3,250 GP placements by 2015. We're currently working with SHAs and deaneries to implement those workforce plans.'

Last year, deaneries were forced to cut the number of GP training places by 7% because a fall of more than 40% in applications for general practice over three years had left them short of quality candidates.

Health minister Earl Howe said: ‘We have many more GPs than we had 10 years ago. Unfortunately, we need more. There is a target every year for recruiting GPs, but we have not quite reached that target in the past three years. We need to do something about that.'

Dr Ben Molyneux, a GP trainee in London and deputy chair of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said: ‘*It's welcome news. We need to increase GP numbers to cope with the drive for increasing community care. The difficulty will be implementation. For there to be an expansion in GP trainees there has to be a reduction in the number of hospital trainees. But services are configured in such a way we rely on junior doctors in hospitals.'

Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, GPC negotiator and a GP in St Columb Major, Cornwall, said: ‘At the moment, there is no real mechanism for growing our practices. There is no point turning out more GPs if we can't offer them substantive posts.'