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Former NHSE deputy chief accuses RCGP of hampering GP recruitment effort

Former NHSE deputy chief accuses RCGP of hampering GP recruitment effort

The former deputy chief executive of NHS England has suggested that negative comments from an ‘RCGP president’ about the job being ‘s***’ hampered GP recruitment. 

The RCGP told Pulse they are ‘shocked, upset, and extremely disappointed’ by these ‘unprovoked comments’, and said the college will call for an apology.

Speaking on a panel at the King’s Fund conference yesterday, Matthew Swindells said that he was previously responsible for delivering the Government’s target of recruiting 5,000 more GPs and that the RCGP president would question him on progress.

Mr Swindells said that at the time he suggested to the former RCGP president that they ‘stopped going on the Today programme’ to talk about the negative aspects of being a GP. He did not name a specific individual and the RCGP told Pulse that as the presidency role is ‘ceremonial’, it is ‘unlikely’ a conversation like this would have taken place with an RCGP president.

Rowing back on the comments today, Mr Swindells today told Pulse he actually cannot remember who the conversation was with, as it was ‘several years ago’, and it ‘could’ have even been ‘a BMA leader’.

He added: ‘The point was that the NHS needs to avoid talking itself down because it becomes self fulfilling.’

He had been speaking yesterday as part of a wider discussion about how to change public perceptions of working in health and social care. Mr Swindells, who is now the chair of the North West London Acute Provider Collaborative, said NHS staff talk themselves down and ‘underrate the brand’.

He told the conference audience: ‘I do think there is something about the way we collectively talk about roles in health and care. 

‘And to use an analogy of GPs, I used to be responsible for the 5,000-more-GPs target that the Government invented. And I’d have the Royal College of GPs president come into my office and go “why haven’t you recruited 5,000 more GPs?”. 

‘And I said “well, I heard you on the Today programme this morning saying that being a GP is a s*** life, and we work so hard and nobody values us and our patients are all horrible. If you stopped going on the Today programme saying that no one in their right mind wants to be a GP” […]’

Mr Swindells added: ‘We underrate the brand and we talk ourselves down. If you were out there working for a company that manufactured missiles, you wouldn’t be going round saying “this is a really s*** place to work”. 

‘You’d be going “I’m really proud that we’re working with the newest technology”. We are extraordinary for talking ourselves down.’

In response to the remarks, RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said: ‘We’ll need to find out more about the comments attributed to Matthew Swindells but we are shocked, upset, and extremely disappointed that the College has been referenced in this way at a public conference.’

She added: ‘Once again, it seems that GPs have been singled out and blamed for all that’s wrong with the NHS. Unprovoked remarks such as this only serve to highlight the issues we are facing.

‘We will be taking this further and calling for an apology to the College and, most importantly, to all the hardworking and dedicated GPs who are trying their best for their patients in increasingly difficult circumstances.’

The comments are ‘ironic’, Professor Hawthorne said, given that ‘only two weeks ago at our annual conference, I called for an end to what I described as the demonisation of hard-working GPs’.

‘We should be heaping praise on our brilliant colleagues, who continue to provide innovative and comprehensive care to their patients. We should not be criticising them and demoralising them even further.’

It is the RCGP’s ‘responsibility’, as ‘the largest medical Royal College, representing over 54,000 GPs across the UK’, to’ talk up the profession and the stimulating and fulfilling career that general practice can offer’, she said.

Adding: ‘We want to attract doctors to become GPs and to join us. Being a GP can be, and indeed IS, the best job in the world, but the lack of ongoing resource, with little or no workforce planning, means that general practice has been struggling for many years.’

But, as the general practice profession is experiencing its ‘worst-ever crisis’, it would be ‘dishonest and disingenuous’ for the RCGP to say otherwise, she said.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt first made the pledge for 5,000 more GPs by 2020 in 2014, but four years later he admitted he was ‘struggling to deliver’ on the promise.

In 2019, the Conservative Party manifesto included a pledge to recruit 6,000 more GPs by 2025, but former health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed in 2021 they would fail to meet this target and it was later dropped from the health secretary’s brief.


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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Turn out The Lights 3 November, 2023 12:39 pm

Looks like the Jobs a a Doctor period is s*** in the uk(small case now not in Europe)A GP workforce that goes down year on year.(who ever he spoke to was telling truth to power) and industrial action in the Junior Dr and Consultant ranks.Mr Swindells( appropiate name me feels) you cannot polish a turd and cover it in glitter and make it anything different than what it is.Who ever you spoke to was right.

Daryl Mullen 3 November, 2023 12:47 pm

So GPs are to blame for there being a lack of GPs.
Nice to see gaslighting is embedded at the heart of NHS England

Anthony Everington 3 November, 2023 12:53 pm

Mathew does have a point. Off course we are right to raise the enormous challenges faced by general practice and the lack of parity of esteem – only 5.8% of professors are from primary care, the percent NHS budget spent on general practice has gone down year on year in the last decade, and the leadership of the system is noticeable by it bias towards acute care. But when I spoke to a group of Cambridge medical students last week I pointed out that although I started life as a Barrister, I could not have wished for a better career than as a GP. The pay and pension is in the top 10% of our country, we have greater autonomy than many doctors and patients and on the whole we get great feedback from patients every day, and are still the most trusted professionals in the country. On top of that, the shortage of GPs and the resultant market forces are delivering a flexibility of employment that would have seemed impossible many years ago. Yes there are major challenges, but it is also a great job. It is important to give both narratives.
sm everington

David Church 3 November, 2023 1:08 pm

Disgraceful that he attempt to shoot the messenger for telling the truth, instead of recognising the truth he was being told, and taking responsibility for himself and his government causing the problems that led to that sitiuation!
The reason he failed was not becaue he was told what the problems were, but because he didn’t bother to do anything to resolve those problems !

Mr Marvellous 3 November, 2023 1:09 pm

This amounts to

“We’d have more applicants if they just didn’t know how bad it was.”


The solution to get more applicants is to improve terms and conditions.

Guido Faux 3 November, 2023 1:45 pm

So Matthew Swindells isnt sure who he spoke to or who he heard being interviewed years ago on the Today programme from the BMA or RCGP. But it is definitely their fault.
Rather than admitting that NHSE and their Government paymasters are responsible for the creeping demise of General Practice.

Finola ONeill 3 November, 2023 1:50 pm

‘underate the brand and talk ourselves down’
Says it all.
1. It’s not a brand
2. you, Mr Manager from the quango NHSE and us the trained clinical staff are not a common denominator of us the NHS.
You are a branch of the government at NHS England. We are a set of highly trained professionals you are attempting to destroy, deliberately or through sheer incompetence.
3. We are not ‘talking ourselves down.’
We are talking down the government and you NHS England, who are a branch of the government; unelected, unanswerable and fairly opaque.
4. We are talking you down because you (the government and its quango) have
-massively increased our workload
-unilaterally imposed a contract on GPs
-just laterally imposed mass data sharing of GP records via the NHS app automatic upload (for dubious purposes ;tech companies using it for free to develop AI products, etc)
-deliberately briefed negatively about GPs to the press; ongoing and continuing with this latest attempt (good going gaslighting)
-reduced and restricted GP funding
-limited a significant proportion of funding to be paid to staff not recognised to be specifically primary care trained (physician associates, paramedics, physios, wellbeing coaches, social prescribers) which we can not use to pay GP nurses, GPs or receptionists and keep labelling them specialists and experts in various pieces of propaganda
(they are not. GPs are generalists doctors, consultants are specialist doctors, the rest are various other trained professionals; pharmacists, physios or questionably what; social prescribers, wellbeing coaches

To clarify we say the job is fairly hellish. That is not doing ourselves down. That is doing down the current job as systematically destroyed by this government and its executive branch NHS England.

Anyone would think you all wanted General Practice to fail. And when we fail, the rest of the NHS with it.

Anthony Everington you are tripping. Or probably doing very little clinical.
My sister is a hospital consultant. Whenever I mention work to her she says she does not know how or why I do what I do.
Between the amped up patients (encouraged by the Tory press) the 150 patients a week I see, the non stop, high speed, high risk work and the lack of any respect or thanks outside the profession. I think our consultant colleagues appreciate how hard our job is.
While this government keeps briefing against us I doubt anyone else will.
But that’s exactly what they want.

Anyway Sunak will be off soon enough. Taking his arrogant little backside back to California to carry on his financial difficulties.
Hoping things will be getting better after that.

Turn out The Lights 3 November, 2023 2:39 pm

Spot on Finola

Not on your Nelly 3 November, 2023 3:20 pm

It is not a great job. It is an impossible job with no thanks , all responsibility, blame and accountabilty with no resources to be able to do the job. Freedom fo speech to speak the truth is another thing that is now being denied to the most over regulated group in the whole of the UK (if no the world). I can’t encourage anyone to be a GP and most of my colleagues (the one above who loves it noted ) would never want to wish the job on anyone. There are easier ways to earn a living and enjoy life.

Truth Finder 3 November, 2023 3:30 pm

Matthew Swindells need to get his memory checked. Apportioning blame to a person he cannot even remember. He is out of touch. The job is S**t. No thanks to his organization endangering GPs and stoking unrealistic expectations.

Decorum Est 3 November, 2023 3:57 pm

Mr Swindells is either dishonest, delusional and has one of those convenient memories. Presumably, he comes from a long-line of Swindlers.
Second, Spot on Finola

Samir Shah 3 November, 2023 5:34 pm

Spot on, Finola.
Mr Swindells is trying to shift blame in order to deflect the Government’s (and NHSE’s) attempts to systematically demolish General Practice and replacement it a with a service not fit for purpose.
This will lead to a long-term reduction of high quality and cost effective patient care, and in place there will be a more expensive poorer quality service for patients.

Dr N 3 November, 2023 10:43 pm

The work is enjoyable its the job that is (NHSE CQC etc induced) shit

Michael Green 4 November, 2023 9:02 am

Matthew Swindells? Never heard of him. Doubt the patients care about who he is or what he has to say either. Just another pointless non job.

Hewa Vitarana 4 November, 2023 9:06 am

“Well said, Fiona! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been a GP partner for 26 years, I wouldn’t recommend a career as a UK General Practitioner to my own children.”

BEVERLEY SCOWEN 4 November, 2023 9:13 am

As always no one in NHSE ever cares to ask why we think the job is shit. Only criticises us for thinking it. I believe its shit because GPs are at the sharp end of the demise of society. So many people out there are buckling under the weight of skyrocketing chronic disease – blame on what you will but I blame the food – skyrocketing mental health symptoms and loss of emotional resilience – just look at the quality of your news feed for blame for this – financial uncertainty and skyrocketing expectation that we have a right to be “supported” by society for all our trials and tribulations. Everywhere you look people are told how much they are suffering or struggling and are encouraged to get help. Who else in all the world can anyone get a piece of? At least that’s what we are told. We have to be accessible to everyone who perceives they have a need for us. If we are not accessible we are demonised. Once we provide access the patient sits in front of us and wants us to DO SOMETHING. We feel as if we are expected to solve unsolvable problems 20 times a day, every day for years. If we give more and more drugs we are criticised. If we don’t give enough drugs we are criticised. If we spend time trying to help people improve their own lives we run late and we are criticised for keeping everyone waiting.
The job is simply not possible. In spite of this I still find many patients are so grateful for what I try to do and I don’t blame the patients for trying to get help. Many have no one else to turn to. The problem is that for all we are supposedly so inaccessible, according to the media, in fact, we are still more accessible than any other source of support in society. If they do access other support services, 9 times out of 10 the advice from that service is “go and see your GP” just to cover their backs in case the patient actually has a significant reversible medical problem or might develop one any time in the next 10 years and claim we should have known.
If I’m honest I don’t believe that any amount of money will fix this. What I do know is that trying to pretend it isn’t shit is utterly bonkers. It’s like blue sky thinking on speed. Accept it’s shit and try asking why?

Bonglim Bong 4 November, 2023 1:10 pm

Those doing the job are complaining that the job is sh%& – and that is hampering improvement. NHS England have 2 choices:
1 – make the job less S%it
2 – tell people off for complaining.

Its so funny that they think the second one is more appropriate.

Darren Tymens 5 November, 2023 6:14 pm

The statement is deeply revealing about NHSE senior leadership mindset.
GP Trainees are intelligent people who are perfectly capable of assessing the current state of the job and making a rational decision.
General Practice is the only career I know of where people who qualify immediately go part time and take on other work – because general practice in its pure form is too demanding, difficult and intense to do full-time.
It is insulting to the profession and to the trainees that NHSE thinks that pure boosterism would increase numbers.
What would boost numbers would be for NHSE to deal with reality – recognise there are a number of problems causing this and engage with practical solutions. I for one am not holding my breath.

a S 5 November, 2023 7:25 pm

Why do we need more GP’s anyway. There are too many now. Many can’t get a day’s work. With PA’s and NP’s edging in there are just too many GP’s. The NHS visa’s havn’t helped. We need to cut training places by half so everyone has a job.

Nicholas Grundy 6 November, 2023 10:33 pm

“Really the problem wasn’t my and NHS England’s serial failures over more than a decade, it was that people with backbone in leadership positions refused to pretend it’s all rainbows and unicorns.”