GP trainee numbers in England have risen by 15% to reach ‘record-breaking’ numbers, the Government has announced.
This is the third year in a row that GP trainee numbers have risen, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
However, GP leaders warned that recruitment success would be ‘in vain’ without improved retention of the existing workforce.
Health Education England (HEE) today reported that 3,441 GP trainees have been accepted onto GP specialty training in 2020 so far, following the initial rounds of recruitment – an increase of 15% compared with 2,891 at the same stage last year.
In 2018, 2,931 GP trainees were accepted after the first stage of recruitment.
This is the highest number ‘the NHS has ever seen at this point’ and it is ‘well on course’ to beat the Government’s target for recruiting 3,500 GP trainees this year, HEE added.
Recruitment into general practice training is still ongoing for this year – with the next round opening at the end of July – and the final number of trainees will be known in the autumn, it said.
Meanwhile, HEE said it is working with employers to support successful applicants who ‘need to defer their start date’ due to coronavirus, as well as commissioning an independent review of ‘all recruitment processes affected by the pandemic’.
HEE deputy medical director for primary and integrated care Professor Simon Gregory said: ‘We are delighted that trainees are continuing to apply for GP specialty training in such high numbers.
‘It shows that our campaign to highlight general practice as a rewarding, sustainable, flexible career continues to appeal to such amazing applicants.
He added: ‘It’s great that so many doctors are choosing a career in general practice. I would like to thank everyone who is working hard to promote GP specialty training.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock said that the new GP trainees show there is ‘growing interest in this fantastic career’ and will create ‘a pipeline of talent for the future’.
He said: ‘This is fantastic news for the NHS: for the third year running GP trainee recruitment is breaking records.
‘These new trainees will ensure a pipeline of talent for the future and help us deliver an extra 50 million appointments a year for patients as well as 6,000 more doctors in general practice.’
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee executive team workforce lead, said the increasing numbers of GP trainees are ‘encouraging’ but that it is ‘crucial we value and retain the existing workforce in order to ensure that GP numbers do truly increase in the long term’.
He said: ‘It is vitally important that we increase the support for the GPs that will be supervising and training these future GPs and those that come in the future.
‘GP trainers face challenges balancing their clinical workloads, as well as high levels of bureaucracy, in addition to their responsibilities in education and training for GP specialty trainees.’
He added: ‘These factors of exceptionally high and demanding workloads are the issues that can influence decisions to leave the profession.’
And chair of the RCGP Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘Now is certainly not the time to take our eye off the ball when it comes to GP recruitment.
‘Many aspiring doctors will have watched with admiration as GPs and colleagues across the NHS went above and beyond throughout the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic – it’s vital to engage with those students to highlight general practice as a viable career option, and it looks like such initiatives have been successful.’
However, he reiterated that despite being ‘an important step in addressing the general practice workforce crisis’, recruitment efforts will be ‘in vain’ without retention.
The DHSC said that HEE is working with NHS England to increase the general practice workforce in England, including measures to ‘boost recruitment, address the reasons why doctors leave the profession, and encourage them to return to practice’.
It comes as the latest official figures have shown that the number of fully qualified full-time equivalent GPs dropped by 2.5% from March 2019 to March 2020.
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.
After all rounds of recruitment had concluded, 3,538 GP trainees were accepted into placements in 2019, compared with 3,473 the previous year – the first time the recruitment target was surpassed.
A version of this story was first published by our sister title Pulse.