Exclusive GP training bosses have changed regulations to allow medical graduates who failed assessments for GP training at the first attempt to reapply in the same year.
Health Education England’s board has reported that this year application numbers for its second round of GP training have increased by ‘around 300’ on the previous year.
However, Pulse has learnt that this has been boosted by a change in rules that allow applicants to retake the computer-based assessment required to enter GP specialty training, where previously they would have had to wait for the next intake year.
The board papers also revealed that they will roll out the ‘pre-GP’ training pilot in the East Midlands – which gave people who failed GP training assessments the opportunity to work in a hospital setting for a year before applying again – despite the GPC labelling it a ‘dead duck’ last year.
Pulse has already revealed that one third of GP training places stood open after the first round of GP recruitment had concluded this year, which came after a drop in applications for round 1 of 6.2%.
HEE was mandated to ensure 3,250 medical students enter GP training by 2016 – a deadline that has already been pushed back once – but last year were forced to run an ‘unprecedented’ third recruitment round to boost numbers.
But even these efforts could not overcome the significant issues facing GP recruitment, with 13% of places remaining vacant nationally last year – and 40% in some areas.
Health Education England’s board papers state: ‘We’ve now completed Rounds one and two, with a number of offers being made to successful applicants this week [… ] and we had more applications (by about 300) for GP Round 2 this year than we did at this stage last year.’
A spokesperson declined to release figures for total applicants or 2014 applicants but told Pulse: ‘In 2014, those that failed stage 2 could not reapply, but those who failed stage 3 could.
‘This was changed in 2015 so failures at both stages could reapply to the re-advert round. There were never restrictions across recruitment years, just between rounds.’
Dr Peter Holden, a GP and former GPC negotiator in the East Midlands – where more than 60% of training places stand unfilled so far – told Pulse the move was the result of political targets.
He said: ‘We shouldn’t be surprised at that at all. This is educationalists toadying to the Government in order to get their next grant.’
He added that recruiters were still ‘fishing from the same pool’ of graduates, and though one or two might have had an off-day on the first attempt serious questions would have to be asked if this led to a significant increase in successful applicants.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘The level for entry to GP training won’t be lowered by this as they will still have to complete, and be successful in, the final stages which ultimately set the benchmark.
‘The real test of the system is how many GP trainees are in place at the end of Round 2 and we await the outcome of that with interest.’
A HEE spokesperson said: ‘This change brings it into line with recruitment in other specialties. The cut off remained the same therefore there is no drop in standards progressing to stage 3.’
The board papers said that the ‘pre-GP training’ pilot will be rolled out to more areas.
HEE declined to share how the scheme’s success was measured but said it was now in discussion with the GPC about the evidence base for the scheme.
However, HEE is already advertising the scheme for this year’s unsuccessful applicants who will be able to participate in six regions; currently, the East of England, East Midlands, West Midlands, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber.
The GPC have already criticised the scheme, which does not offer any accredited training, as being simply a model to ‘fill service roles’ in hospitals.
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GPC’s training and workforce subcommittee, said: ‘We’ve made it very clear these are essentially training posts they’re using to encourage new doctors to get into training – but it doesn’t count for training. Is this the best way to spend the resources available for general practice?
‘If there’s strong evidence to suggest these pre-GP training programmes will rekindle interest in somebody who had considered a career in general practice… then that’s something we’d look for. But it’s got to be based on strong evidence.’