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Minister casts doubt on whether Government can fulfil 5,000 new GP pledge

A health minister has admitted that there is a ‘risk’ around whether the Government will achieve its commitment to find 10,000 new GP or GP ’equivalents’, and that failure to achieve the target would make it ‘difficult to deliver our ambitions’.

Lord Prior – who was chair of the CQC before becoming minister for NHS productivity last year – has cast doubt on health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s commitments on GP numbers, which included increasing the workforce by 5,000 GPs by 2020.

The minister said that the Government has increased the number of training places to 3,500 from this year.

But Pulse has revealed that there has been a 5% decrease in applications this year, which would lead to only 2,630 places being filled based on last year’s 2,769 filled posts.

In the debate on GP access in the House of Lords last week, Lord Prior said: ‘The workforce is a serious issue. We are committed to finding 10,000 new GPs or GP equivalents in general practice by 2020 and we have increased the number of training places by 3,500 from this year and going forwards.

‘To be honest, there is a risk whether we will be able to get that number of people into general practice. However, without that kind of workforce commitment it will be difficult to deliver our ambitions.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said it ‘won’t be possible for the Government to meet its target’.

But he added: ‘That should not stop them doing far more to address this workforce crisis if we are to persuade junior doctors to choose general practice as a career in the future.

‘In order to turn the tide they must commit far more funding to enable practices to expand their teams with other clinicians and give a clear signal to young doctors that the long term future of general practice is sustainable.

How the Government’s target has been diluted

The DH now claims that the target of 5,000 extra GPs by 2020 will also include doctors in training, effectively giving it three more years to boost numbers.

But this was not health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s original pledge to the Conservative Party conference. His words were: ‘Tory conference, I can today confirm plans to train and retain an extra 5,000 GPs.’

And this was the rhetoric leading up to general election, with the DH saying it was committed to bringing ‘5,000 more GPs’ into the system by 2020.

But this rhetoric changed when Mr Hunt announced his ‘new deal’ in June 2015. The health secretary also said in the subsequent Q&A session that there would be ‘flexibility [in the target] because in some parts of the country it is very hard to recruit GPs’.