By Gareth Iacobucci
Exclusive: Millions of pounds of funding is being stripped from GP training in a savage series of cuts by SHAs to education budgets, Pulse can reveal.
GPs face a reduction in placements, cancellation of residential courses and freezes in training posts as part of cuts in funding of as much as 14% over this financial year.
Budget cuts of up to £5m follow recent warnings from the GMC over the quality of medical education and will fuel concerns that the next generation of GPs are not being properly prepared for the job.
Earlier this month, Pulse revealed the pass rate for the RCGP’s clinical skills assessment had crashed from 81% to 46% in a single year.
West Midlands Deanery, one of the biggest GP educational facilities in the country, has had its 2010/11 budget for GP training cut to £30.5m, from £35.5m the previous year. That cut, described as ‘ridiculous’ by the RCGP, comes despite the deanery increasing its intake of registrars from 478 to 502 in the same period.
Elsewhere, NHS South Central has cut Oxford Deanery’s GP training budget by £340,000 – from £12.9m to £12.5m this year – despite its number of registrars jumping from 316 to 352.
Across nine major deaneries, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal funding during 2010/11 will rise by 5% overall, but the number of GP training posts will jump by 12% – meaning a cut of more than 6% per trainee.
The increase in funding is far lower than the 14% rise the year before, when the number of training posts increased by 16%.
NHS East of England is increasing funding by 7% but to cover an 18% increase in GP registrars, and is not allowing GP educators who leave posts to be replaced under drastic plans to cut costs. Elsewhere, Wessex Deanery has seen funding rise by just 6%, to cope with an 18% leap in registrar numbers.
Pulse’s findings come after the GMC recently warned plans to scrap SHAs would have ‘major ramifications’ for GP training, with cuts becoming more widespread.
Professor Steve Field, chair of the RCGP and postgraduate dean at West Midlands Deanery, said there was ‘no excuse’ for the funding cuts: ‘It is ridiculous. There is no excuse for this and I get so fed up with it.’
He added: ‘If we’re serious about a GP-led NHS, we have to look at how the money is spent. GPs have got to have more influence over the training budget.’
Dr Anne Gillies, a GP trainer for 13 years in Solihull, said the funding cuts were having a major impact on the scope of training: ‘We’re seeing the results of the cuts. It has meant trainee GPs are able to spend less time in general practice.’
Another GP trainer in Birmingham, who wished to remain anonymous, said the cuts had affected money available for residential courses and posts in GP surgeries: ‘Some of the exam you can’t do if you’re not in a training post. So if there’s no funding, effectively they’re unemployable as a GP.’
Dr Richard Stevens, a GP trainer in Oxford, said he was concerned pressures on resources would lead to money being withdrawn from courses, and too much emphasis placed on recording information rather than learning new skills.
An NHS West Midlands spokesperson insisted: ‘We’re delivering the same for less in line with the QIPP agenda. There are no specific aspects we are scaling back.’
Dr Anne Gillies: cuts mean trainee GPs have been able to spend less time in general practice Professor Steve Field: interview