Exclusive Education chiefs have offered grants of up to £20,000 to address ‘capacity issues’ at training practices, as part of plans to boost the number of GP trainee places in general practice.
Pulse has learnt that training boards in two areas have both offered GP practices grants for ‘capital infrastructure development’ as education leaders battle to meet their target of recruiting 3,250 trainees a year by 2015.
Wessex Local Education and Training Board (LETB) has already given 20 practices grants of up to £20,000 in order to boost places on 16 additional GP training programmes by 2015.
Thames Valley LETB has just begun providing grants and said it was unable to give figures on how much is to be invested, following a similar scheme previously undertaken by the strategic health authority.
The move has been condemned by GP leaders who say that the training budget should not be raided to pay for shortfalls in premises investment, particularly as NHS England has halted most new investment for GP premises while it carries out a review.
But the training boards say the grants are vital to ensure they are able to provide additional capacity for GP and practice nurse training.
Pulse revealed this month that the latest figures from the National Recruitment Office are set to show a 15% drop in applications for GP training, which has further damaged the Government’s attempts at training 3,250 new GPs a year by 2015.
Health education chiefs are also set to consider capping the number of trainees entering non-GP specialties under radical plans being considered by advisers to alleviate the GP recruitment crisis.
Wessex LETB’s plans, revealed in its Education Plan 2014-15, reveals that there is an issue with the capacity of training practices, as well as the number of trainees.
It said: ‘There are capacity issues with GP training practices across Health Education Wessex. Investment has started to enable practices to undertake capital infrastructure development needed to support increased training numbers. It is anticipated that the increased capacity will be available over the next one to two years.’
Dr Nigel Watson, chair of Wessex LMC, who also sits on the LETB, said that he knew of 20 practices – including his own – who had been given grants of up to £20,000.
He added: ‘The board has been trying to expand the number of training premises, the availability of suitable premises. They have given grants to surgeries to convert additional consulting rooms. My own practice use to have one registrar, but now we have two. We looked at a meeting room and made it smaller to make a consulting room for the other registrar.’
A spokesperson for Wessex said: ‘In 2012-13 South Central SHA invested £363,000 to develop GP practices and increase primary care training in Wessex. Health Education Wessex is following the progress of this investment which will support our increase of 16 additional GP training programmes by 2015, as well as providing additional training capacity for foundation trainees and practice nurses.’
A spokesperson for Thames Valley LETB confirmed to Pulse that similar grants were being given to practices in the region, although they added that this round of grants were in their initial stages.
But GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash said that training boards should not have to make up the shortfall in investment for premises.
She said: ‘There has been gross underinvestment in premises since the new contract and it is wholly unacceptable to expect general practice to take on more and more work and services from secondary care if we are not going to invest in the infrastructure. That should be ringfenced and the money given to all GPs.’
‘Taking money out of training budgets to fund something that should have been funded properly in the first place is a short-term fix but we need a longer-term solution.’