Health Education England has been asked to find out exactly how many primary and community care staff are needed across the country.
Speaking at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) annual conference in Liverpool, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed that there had been an “element of guesswork” in working out how many staff are needed in practices and the community.
He has tasked HEE with coming up with a “detailed picture” of workforce models on an area by area basis.
The report will be published next summer, in the hopes of understanding workforce capacity in primary care.
Tools and National Institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE) guidelines have been developed to guide good staffing levels, but Hunt argues that there is no equivalent for general practice.
He said: “When I talk about 10,000 more people working in the community, or Labour talks about 8,000 more GPs last week – we know we need more GPs but if we’re honest there’s an element of guesswork as to how many precisely we need.
“Today I can announce that I’ve asked HEE to do an independent study of what exactly we do need in terms of GP workforce. Not just across the country, but area by area because I think we need to know exactly where we are under-doctored and exactly where the pressures are.”
Hunt also floated the concept of introducing GP assistants, based on similar roles that are common in the US. He had previously mentioned the idea earlier this week during his speech at the Conservative Party Conference.
Addressing the crowd of over 2,500 primary healthcare staff, he said: “Maureen [Baker, RCGP chair] and I had a very good trip to the US where we looked at the role of physicians assistants and medical assistants.
“I think they do have a role, but I think we should be scientific about this and understand to what extent they have a role and how they can make a difference.”
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome the independent study that he has commissioned form HEE, and we do commit to working with them on this analysis. I think it will be highly informative to get accurate and localised views on the clinical and support workforce that we need to meet the needs of patients.
“As the battle-lines are drawn for the upcoming general election, I think it’s hugely positive that the political parties are now competing with each other to talk about their vision for patient care in general practice. It shows how far we’ve come, and that the campaign has shaped the debate and set the agenda. But we do need to make sure that general practice does not become a political football.”