Professor Bill Irish has been a canary in the coalmine of GP training over the past year.
The chair of the GP National Recruitment Office issued a stark warning over an impending jobs crisis in general practice. He claimed doctors simply don’t want to be GPs anymore and said deaneries were reducing the number of GP places on offer because of the difficulty of filling them with high-quality applicants.
The warning was noted in high places, with the Department of Health subsequently announcing a 20% rise in GP training places – but Professor Irish remains sceptical that the target will be met this year.
He says: ‘The shortage continues, and all metrics show it is worsening. While the DH has announced its intention to increase the number of GP speciality trainees, it also said that three years ago – but the numbers in England have remained exactly the same.
‘I am not particularly optimistic. Acute trusts remain far more influential than GPs on local education and training boards, and a shift of resources this way isn’t likely.’
Although he is pessimistic about GP workforce numbers, Professor Irish says the ‘tacit approval’ of four-year GP training from Health Education England was a highlight of the past 12 months.
In the coming year, he is planning a programme to actively recruit GP trainees for isolated and deprived areas of the UK and sanguine about the massive changes set to engulf deaneries over the next few months.
He says: ‘Life in the NHS at this level is always about the next re-shuffling of the deck chairs. Yes, of course I have worries and concerns, but I have learned that there are always great opportunities too.’
Despite being one of the foremost GP trainers in the country, Professor Irish manages to find time for clinical work.
He says: ‘I still enjoy seeing patients. Helping people with difficult and unexpected illnesses is a unique privilege. I wouldn’t pass it up for the world.’