Ministers ‘must act’ on crisis in doctor numbers

MINISTERS MUST act urgently to address a “crisis” in falling numbers of GPs, doctors’ leaders have warned.

Leeds GP Richard Vautrey

A Government-ordered report published yesterday points to significant problems signing up new family doctors, particularly in deprived areas.

Among a series of recommendations, it said financial bonuses should be offered to attract GPs to work in “undoctored areas”, which include Hull and large parts of South Yorkshire.

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It warned action was needed “immediately” to sustain the role of general practice in the NHS, “let alone enable it to expand and meet the growing healthcare needs of our population”.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the shortfalls were adding to problems facing patients in accessing appointments and demanded long-term investment in general practice.

Family doctors have been handed a key role by Ministers in driving improvements in health services by taking charge of 70 per cent of the NHS budget and are being expected to assume further responsibilities as more care is transferred out of hospital and into the community. But the GP Taskforce report by Health Education England said recruitment of trainee GPs had been “stubbornly low” for the last four years.

Despite a long-standing target to increase GP training numbers to 3,250 every year, it had been missed in all four years, with only around 2,700 recruited.

The report’s authors said implementing their recommendations was “essential to secure the future GP workforce supply upon which the sustainability of our NHS depends”.

It said GP numbers grew until 2009 but had since declined, with unequal distribution across the country leading to fewer in areas of highest deprivation where needs were greatest.

It added: “This cumulative recruitment shortfall is being compounded by increasing numbers of trained GPs leaving the workforce, most significantly GPs approaching retirement, but perhaps more worryingly women in their 30s. GP recruitment and retention is a much bigger problem in some parts of the country and often in those areas which have the worst health outcomes.”

It recommended cutting numbers of hospital training posts and a drive to make a career in general practice more attractive, calling for financial incentives for GPs to work in “under-doctored” areas.

Leeds GP Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA’s GPs’ committee, said: “We have reached a serious crisis point where not enough GPs are being recruited and too many are retiring early. There is no longer any time to waste and the Government needs to implement the findings of this report in full and begin a programme of sustained, long-term investment in the GP workforce.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We know GPs are working under pressure which is why we have cut GPs’ targets to free up time with patients and are increasing trainees so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population.”