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Training bosses given two years to boost GP trainee numbers

Training chiefs have been given more time to recruit more GPs into postgraduate medical training, after a surprise 15% drop in applications for GP trainee places.

Health Education England, the body in charge of NHS workforce training has been told to ensure 50% of training posts go to GP trainees by 2016 – instead of 2015, as previously set out by the Government.

The target was contained in a ‘refreshed’ mandate published today by the Department of Health for 2014/15.

The refreshed mandate states: ‘HEE will ensure that 50% of trainees completing foundation level training enter GP training programmes by 2016.’

The previous version of the mandate required HEE to ‘make significant progress towards’ 50% of postgraduate medical training places being for general practice, but the body has so far failed to significantly boost numbers.

In 2013, despite an increase in the number of applications, the number of medical graduates actually starting a GP placement in England only increased by 95 to 2,764, still well short of the Government’s 2015 target of 3,250 places of the 6,500 places per year.

The GPC said the delay was unsurprising amid the unfolding crisis in recruitment and retention of GPs across the whole of the UK, and called for urgent action to address issues of workload and demand on practices to make the profession more attractive to junior doctors.

Pulse revealed earlier this month that an internal GPC briefing says the workforce gaps in general practice have reached ‘crisis point’ afterapplications for postgraduate GP specialty training have dropped by 15% this year putting Government targets to boost GP numbers at risk.

GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash said: ‘We know the aim is get 50% of young doctors to become GPs, but the bottom line is we’re failing to attract those candidates, we are failing to fill even the training places that we currently have.

‘I think this is a pragmatic acceptance that there are significant difficulties in general practice training. Obviously the view of HEE will be, “what’s the point of offering more places, if we can’t currently fill the ones that are on offer?”.’

She added: ‘They will have to look at this and change tack. They, along with other organisations, need to solve the real issue of the whole workforce feeling undervalued and demoralised as well as the funding issues. There’s no point simply expanding the number of GP trainees if practices don’t have the stability or resource to offer a partnership or salaried post. At the moment with all the uncertainties practices just do not feel they are in that position.

‘We cannot force people to become GPs. Unless we address those fundamental issues, just putting an arbitrary number on it is not going to solve the recruitment problem.’

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the BMA’s Trainee Subcommittee said: ‘It is very disappointing that the target of 3,250 which was initially put forward by Medical Education England in the last decade seems to be postponed yet again from 2015 to 2016.

‘Without significant investment in general practice, I fail to see how this number will ever be reached. The government needs to investigate the potential problems associated with GP recruitment. Simply moving the goal posts yet again is not the solution.’