Exclusive The proportion of GP training places filled in certain parts of the UK as fallen as low as 62% in some areas, calling into serious doubt the Government’s plans to meet targets to increase the GP workforce.
The figures for the August 2014 intake – described by the GPC as ‘the worst ever’ – reveal that 2,564 of positions have been filled in England, representing 87% of those available, which is a decrease on the 2,764 positions filled in August 2013.
This could cause major problems for the Government in achieving its target of training 3,250 new GPs a year by 2016, which itself was put back a year from the original planned implementation of 2015.
However, GP leaders said the biggest concern was the vast differences between regions, with the popular regions filling all places, but areas where workforce recruitment problems are at their most acute, such as the East Midlands, the Northern region and Merseyside, have fill rates of 62%, 71% and 72% respectively.
The East Midlands local education and training board (LETB) has even been forced into offering a ‘pre-GP training year’ within secondary care, which has been introduced because the shortfall of GP training posts has left gaps in service provision, the GPC has said.
This comes amid a workforce crisis that has seen practices being forced into offering ‘golden hellos’ to recruit partners, and a high percentage of shifts going unfilled.
Pulse revealed earlier this year that the number of graduates applying for training positions decreased by 15% from last year.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said: ‘These figures are deeply concerning and represent a serious threat to the delivery of effective GP services to patients. They show that we are experiencing serious shortfalls in the number of doctors choosing to train to become GPs, which will ultimately mean fewer GPs entering the workforce across large parts of the UK, most worryingly in already under doctored areas such as the North and the Midlands.’
He added that this could lead to a gap in service between the south and north of England.
He said: ‘This worrying shortage of GPs will only exacerbate this crisis and could leave us in a situation where there are simply not enough GPs to cope with the number of patients coming through the door. The imbalance in filled posts between the north and south of England could also mean that we are seeing the opening up of a division in the standard of care patients get in different parts of the country.’
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GPC GP trainees subcommittee, said: ‘There are the worst figures we have ever seen in GP recruitment since everything was standardised in 2007. What is worrying is that despite us flagging the issue on a regular basis, not enough has been done to encourage young doctors to go into GP training.’
The East Midlands LETB has advertised a ‘Pre-GP Project’, a one year role which involves filling in shifts in hospital rotas for candidates who failed to achieve the required standard for GP training spots in the assessment round.
But Dr Kasaraneni criticised the plans. He said: ‘This is not like any other GP training we have seen. This is nothing but a rota filling gap, that has nothing to do with GP training.’
A Health Education England spokesperson said: ‘The number of GP training posts has been increased in 2014 to support our Mandate requirement. We are doing further work to improve the number of applications and fill rate to support that Mandate target to provide a total of 3,250 GP training places. This work includes a review of the GP recruitment process, development of a pre-GP year for prospective applicants and careers advice for foundation doctors and medical students.’
In the devolved nations, Scotland has filled 89% of posts, Wales 90% and Northern Ireland has filled 64 of its 65 training posts.