This site is intended for health professionals only

The recruitment timebomb has been lit

If you think general practice is in a bad state now, wait until you see the results of the failed recruitment strategies of the past few years.

Pulse’s revelation that there has been a 6% decrease in the number of medical graduates applying to general practice compared with last year – the second decrease in a row – shows that all attempts to increase GP numbers are continuing to fail.

The fact of the matter is that deaneries are not able to convince young medics that GP is a career worth choosing.

They are trying: NHS England’s ten-point plan is at least an attempt to increase GP numbers, starting in medical schools.

Even the RCGP is getting involved, with a sharp change of tack – having previously decried the state of general practice, it is now claiming there is ‘no better time in a generation’ to enter the profession.

But, speaking to medical graduates, it is clear what the problem is: they hear the reality of the state of general practice and they decide they can do without the stress and long hours the job entails.

It won’t be gimmicks and short-term measures that will tempt would-be GPs – something NHS England itself admits.

It will be long-term stable investment in routine care.

But this argument that has been made a thousand times, and the failure to listen is coming home to roost.

The simple truth is that, come two to three years’ time, we will have a huge shortfall in the numbers of GPs coming through.

Of course, Health Education England claims that this drop in applications is ‘only half the story’ and we must wait until we see the fill rates before judging.

But this is plain wrong. The drop in applications leads to two things: a drop in the number of positions filled or an unpalatable lowering of the standards for entry.

The target of 3,250 new GPs a year by 2016 – a deadline already delayed by a year – is highly unlikely to be met.

But this was a very minimum, and way off projections around how many GPs we will really need to shift care from hospitals.

The timebomb had been lit, and it is a case of waiting for it to explode.