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GP shortage is a ‘make or break’ issue in England, says think-tank

GP staffing issues need ‘sufficient levels of investment’ if the profession is to keep up with increased demand, according to a think-tank analysis.

The analysis by the Health Foundation, published ahead of the NHS Confederation conference this week, warns the Government must take action on wider health funding to meet increased patient demand for staff.

The report also warned that the £20.6bn increase in NHS funding cannot guarantee the successful delivery of the long-term plan, adding that the Government must support investment in workforce, capital infrastructure and social care, for example.

As a result, the think-tank reported that to maintain the current level of healthcare services over the next five years, the total health budget would have to increase by 3.4%, which the Health Foundation says will mean that funding for workforce will increase at the same rate as that for frontline services.

The report said: ‘Staffing is the make-or-break issue for the NHS in England and workforce shortages are already having a direct impact on patient care and staff experience. The NHS long-term plan makes it clear that ‘the NHS will need more staff, working in rewarding jobs and a more supportive culture’.

‘However, spending on the education, training and development of staff sits outside NHS England’s budget. It is spending in these areas that will determine if there are enough staff in training, and if they have sufficient levels of investment in their development.’

In conjunction with the Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund, the Health Foundation also found the overall NHS workforce shortfall could increase to 160,000 by 2023/24, which includes a shortfall of 7,000 GPs. Currently, trusts have an estimated staff shortage of more 100,000 FTE workers.

A recent survey by NHS Confederation, published alongside the Health Foundation analysis, also suggested that NHS staff were not confident that their local health systems would be able to meet the increased demand for GPs as a result of the long-term plan.

The survey showed 65% of the 67 leaders from CCGs, trusts and ICSs were not very or not at all confident that local health systems would be able to meet increased demand for staff as a result of the plan – particularly GPs, community and primary care nurses and general nursing sector.

Health Foundation chief executive Dr Jennifer Dixon said: ‘The vision set out by NHS leaders in the long-term plan is the right one, and the extra funding announced by Theresa May last summer is welcome. But this is not job done.

‘Policymakers need to face the fact that there is urgent unfinished business if the NHS is to deliver its vision to improve patient care. There are mounting workforce shortages, the social care system is starved of funding, capital investment is going backwards, and public health funds cut. This all piles demand on the NHS and risks swallowing up the extra money and leaving far less to modernise care, reduce waiting times, and prevent illness in the first place.

‘The NHS is being seriously hampered in efforts to move forward. How can any industry significantly boost productivity without investing in staff training, technology and kit?’

Latest data from NHS Digital shows the number of fully qualified GPs in England has fallen by 1.5% since March last year.