GP trainee numbers in England have risen by 7%, beating the Government’s annual target for the third year running, Health Education England (HEE) has announced.
It follows an announcement in July that ‘record-breaking’ numbers of GP trainees had been accepted following the first round of recruitment and that HEE was ‘well on course’ to meet the target.
However, at the time, numbers had risen by 15% compared with the same stage the previous year.
Figures published today by HEE show that 3,793 GP trainee posts have been accepted this year against the mandated target of 3,250.
This represents a 7% increase on last year’s recruitment, when 3,538 GP trainees accepted posts.
In 2018, 3,473 GP trainees were accepted onto placements after all rounds of recruitment had concluded – marking the first time the recruitment target was surpassed.
HEE said this is the ‘highest-ever’ number of GPs entering training, representing a 40% increase on the 2,700 trainees recruited when HEE started its recruitment drive in 2014.
It added that HEE has increased GP trainee acceptances year on year for the last seven years.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘It is fantastic to see a record number of doctors choosing general practice as a future career. GPs sit at the heart of local communities, providing care and comfort to generations of families.
‘We will deliver an extra 50 million appointments a year. I’d like to pay tribute to Health Education England for their hard work in promoting general practice and their support in redesigning care.’
HEE chief executive Dr Navina Evans added that she is ‘delighted’ by the news, which is ‘testament to the very hard work of HEE staff who have worked tirelessly to promote general practice as a rewarding career’.
She said: ‘The NHS Long Term Plan is very clear that patient care needs to be delivered closer to home wherever possible and that’s why this news is so important and why we have made this one of our key priorities.
‘We will continue to work with partners across the NHS to redesign the way we deliver 21st-century care to patients across the country.’
And Professor Wendy Reid, HEE national medical director and director of education and quality, added that HEE’s ‘challenge’ is now to continue increasing recruitment as it moves to a new target of recruiting 4,000 trainees.
HEE will work through training hubs to ‘deliver more GPs’ and reform GP specialty training to ‘make sure it can meet the needs of patients and maintain its popularity’, she said.
However, GP leaders previously warned that recruitment success would be ‘in vain’ without improved retention of the existing workforce.
It comes as the latest official figures have shown that the number of fully qualified full-time equivalent GPs in England dropped by 651 in a year.
And a major Pulse analysis earlier this year found that despite the positive upward trend in trainee numbers, more must be done for the Government to successfully meet its targets.
Last year, the Government pledged to create 50 million more GP appointments per year by bringing 6,000 new doctors to general practice by 2024/25 – including 3,000 extra fully-qualified GPs and 3,000 trainees.
It also promised to recruit 6,000 more additional staff in general practice such as pharmacists and social prescribers to help deliver the extra appointments, on top of the 22,000 announced as part of the GP contract.