Recruiting 5,000 extra GPs: Fact vs Fiction

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FICTION: In September 2015 Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary promised the NHS would recruit an extra 5,000 full time equivalent GPs (FTE) by 2021. This was also set out as an objective the following year by NHS England in the GP Forward View.

The 2017 Conservative Election Manifesto also promised “a truly seven-day health care service”, claiming 17 million people can get “routine weekend or evening appointments either at their own GP surgery or on nearby.”

FACT: A spectacular failure

April 2018 figures released by NHS Digital revealed that the number of FTE GPs in the workforce had decreased more than 1,000 since Hunt’s promise.

GP magazine Pulse also reported NHS England’s campaign to recruit GPs from overseas had signed up just 85 doctors – from a target of 600.

Increasing pressure on GPs has also been a factor in increased numbers of GPs opting to retire early rather than soldier on, with 3,000 GPs retiring before their 60th birthday in the five years from 2013.

In June 2018 Matt Hancock, Hunt’s successor as Health Secretary, reiterated the commitment to increase GP numbers by 5,000: but by then the FTE GP workforce had sunk to more than 1,400 below the level when Hunt’s target was set.

By October 2018 Hancock had abandoned the 2020 deadline, and in November he was embarrassingly forced to delete claims of a “terrific” increase of 1,000 GPs joining the NHS in just three months, after being censured by the government statistics watchdog the UKSA.

Hancock was counting trainees as GPs: numbers of qualified GPs had fallen by 674 over 12 months. No new deadline was set when Hancock once again promised the increased numbers of GPs in January 2019.

By August even the Daily Mail was pointing to the scale of failure: “The NHS has lost almost 600 GPs in the last year as its recruitment crisis continues, figures show.

“Almost as many family doctors left the health service between June 2018 and June 2019 as did in the entire three years to March. …

“The losses again highlight the spectacular failure of the Government’s pledge to hire 5,000 extra GPs between by 2020.”

• Pulse’s annual survey of waiting times shows the average wait for a routine GP appointment has risen to more than 2 weeks, for the first time ever, with more than 22% of GPs saying that the wait for a routine appointment is more than three weeks.

This article was originally published in Health Campaigns Together Election Special newspaper.

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