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Government failure to meet 6,000 GP target ‘unsurprising’

by Jess Hacker
3 November 2021

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The Health Secretary’s admission that the Government is not on track to meet its election pledge to recruit 6,000 additional FTE GPs by 2025 ‘isn’t surprising’ in light of its ‘sticking plaster’ approach to the workforce crisis, it has been criticised.

Speaking at the House of Commons Health and Social Care committee, Sajid Javid told MPs ‘I don’t think we are on track’ when asked if the target was in reach.

The figure was a key promise in the Conservatives’ 2019 general election manifesto.

Chair of the committee, Jeremy Hunt, highlighted that during his own time as Health Secretary, he had failed to meet his own GP recruitment targets, citing ‘a big increase in the number of GPs going part time or retiring early’.

Mr Javid replied: ‘Whether a GP or not, people have a right to, whether they move to part-time, or in some cases they might retire earlier than otherwise. And I think part of the answer… is that we’ve got to make sure that we are listening to what can help GPs and also their general work environment, the unimaginable pressures.’

Responding to the Health Secretary’s comments, Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: ‘It isn’t surprising to hear that the Government are not on track to keep their pledge of 6,000 more GPs by 2025 – this has been clear for some time – but it is disappointing.’

The RCGP has been ‘consistently raising the alarm’ to signify the growing workload and workforce pressures facing general practice, he said, citing the impact this is having on patient care.

However, he added the Government’s ‘”sticking plaster” solutions to address them’ are not enough.

‘It must ramp up efforts to meet its promises of 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 more members of the wider practice team as a matter of urgency,’ he said.

Javid’s admission ‘long overdue’

Dr Richard Vautrey, outgoing BMA GP committee chair, claimed Mr Javid’s admission that the Government was not on track is ‘long overdue’,  and it would not come as news to GPs or practice staff.

‘The bottom line is we are haemorrhaging doctors in general practice. Whilst more younger doctors may be choosing to enter general practice, even more experienced GPs are leaving the profession or reducing their hours to manage unsustainable workloads,’ said Dr Vautrey.

Meanwhile, Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said that MPs were within their right to press Mr Javid for information.

‘We need a robust long term workforce plan and increased longer term investment in workforce expansion, education and training,’ she said.

Mr Javid had pointed to Health Education England’s ongoing review into updating the long-term workforce strategy for health and social care sector.

But Ms Cordery said the framework ‘must be focused on the numbers needed in the workforce’ to ‘build more capacity into the system’ if it is to bring meaningful change.

‘Working with partners across the health sector, we will continue to push for the Government to enshrine this process in the Health and Care Bill to ensure there are robust, independent projections of the health and social care staff the country needs and help make workforce shortages a thing of the past.’

A recent survey of RCGP members which indicated that 8% planned to leave the profession in the next year, rising to 34% within the next five.

A major study published this summer indicated the number of practices with high GP turnover almost doubled from 14% in 2009, to 27% in 2019.

The Health and Care Bill was criticised for lacking provisions to improve workforce planning across the sector.