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‘Urgent changes’ to GP recruitment needed

29 October 2014

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UK medical schools must do more to attract graduates into general practice, a senior academic has written in the BMJ. 

Just two of the 33 Medical School Council (MSC) members are GPs, Richard Wakeford, a Life Fellow at Hughes Hall in the University of Cambridge, found. 

And on the websites of 33 publicly funded UK undergraduate medical schools, Wakeford found very little information about general practice. 

He warned in a letter published in the BMJ today that without a complete reorganisation of student recruitment, medical schools “will continue to overproduce graduates inclined to hospital specialties and research.”

Currently available data show that just 11% of new medical students plan to enter a career in general practice. On graduation, one in four new medical graduates plans to become a GP. 

In his letter, Wakeford questions whether a representative body comprising 6% GPs can be entrusted to direct undergraduate medical education, and selection into it, when the country needs 50% of doctors to enter general practice. 

He argues that medical schools must act and the MSC’s membership requires obliterative change. “This is urgent because of the training time lag. If the NHS is to survive, we need creative recruitment such that at least one in two, not one in eight, new medical students want to become the GPs of the future,” he concludes.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee said:
“We are now reaching a stage where general practice will soon not have enough GPs to provide the number of appointments and range of services that patients deserve and need. 

“Medical schools do need to play a role in addressing this mounting crisis.  In recent years, there has been evidence that medical student’s exposure to general practice has been declining. Not all of this is the fault of medical schools as funding for the undergraduate teaching of general practice has been in sustained decline. It is also clear that one of the reasons medical students are not opting for general practice is this intense and unsustainable pressure current GPs are under from rising patient demand and falling resources.

“We do need policymakers to undertake a sustained period of investment in general practice that leads to a coordinated plan to increase the number of GPs entering the workforce.  This must include providing medical schools with the resources to encourage more medical students to opt for general practice as a career.”

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Being a GP is one of the most rewarding, interesting and diverse jobs in the world – and medical schools have a responsibility to ‘big up’ general practice to ensure that we are attracting sufficient numbers and that we do not lose out to other medical specialties.

“We need vibrant marketing campaigns to show medical students what a fulfilling and intellectually stimulating career choice general practice really is.

“General practice is the cornerstone of the NHS and it is imperative that all those working in medical education do their duty to promote being a GP as the first choice for medical students, for the sake of our patients and for the future sustainability of the NHS.”

The full letter is available to view on the BMJ website