GP leaders have warned that the government must not ‘airbrush’ its failure to deliver satisfactory increases in GP numbers.
This follows the Health Secretary’s annual review of performance in NHS England failing to evaluate progress on GP recruitment; a serious red flag indicating that all is not going according to plan.
Jeremy Hunt lauded the GP Forward View and good progress on implementing improved access to GP services in the report, also noting the requirement for a larger primary-care workforce.
But the Health Secretary bizarrely stopped short of assessing the progress of NHS England in this area; a decision that has been strongly criticised by GP leaders.
Hunt has previously pledged to deliver 5,000 extra doctors by the end of the decade, with NHS England and Health Education England responsible for this procedure.
And the government has reiterated this commitment in recent weeks, with primary care minister Steve Brine MP noting this aim in a statement to the House of Commons.
The target is now a major pillar of the GP Forward View, yet figures back in May indicated that the GP workforce had diminished by 445 during Q4 of 2016.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey stated that increasing numbers in general practice should be a major focus for the healthcare system.
“It’s a concern if the DH is airbrushing out the failure so far to increase GP numbers and genuinely expand the primary care workforce in a sustainable way. They must not ignore these crucial areas, no matter how difficult the task is, and they would be far better spending scarce NHS resources on these areas rather than more extended access to an already overstretched general practice service.”
In its annual report, also published earlier this week, the Department of Health conceded that there had been “particular difficulty in building on the number of GPs in practice”.
It also commented that “despite ongoing work there was a drop in the effective GP workforce, from 34,914 full-time equivalent GPs recorded in March 2016 to 34,372 full-time equivalents”.
Hunt, elsewhere in his report on NHS England’s performance, praised the roll out of extended access to GP services.
“I am pleased to see the continued improvement in in 2016/17, with 17m patients (30% of the registered population) benefiting from extended access to general practice.”
The report nonetheless concludes that “there remains a great deal more to do to meet this vision, particularly to improve quality and safety whilst maintaining financial sustainability. The scale of the challenge the NHS faces is significant”.