New information released by Health Education England (HEE) indicates that a significant number of younger professionals training to be clinicians have applied for specialist training positions in the NHS.
Data from HEE indicates that over 120 additional additional junior doctors have applied for specialty training, with 170 trainees applying to become GPs.
This represents a small increase in the number of doctors applying for training post following foundation training, with the year-on-year expansion around 2%.
It is also notable that the total occupancy rate for specialty training positions has remained pretty much stable from last year at 90%.
It was in general practice where the largest increase was experienced, with 178 additional additional doctors applying to become GPs; an overall fill rate equivalent to 83%, or 2,691 trainees.
However, despite the apparently positive news, this was still significantly below the target of 3,250 which HEE has set in order to fulfil its overarching aim of attracting 5,000 extra GPs to the profession by 2020.
With this target in mind, a new round of recruitment for doctors will begin later this month.
Meanwhile, emergency medicine recruitment remained stable at a fill rate of 99%, or 317 trainees.
This has been aided by a £50 million program launched by HEE intended to improve the levels of emergency medicine staffing by creating 75 new training posts on an annual basis.
However, nearly one-fifth of psychiatry training places are unfilled based on data released by Health Education England.
This information can be considered important, as it had been feared following the dispute over junior doctors’ contracts that trainees would leave for foreign climes in order to work in overseas healthcare systems.
Indeed, hundreds had applied for certificates from the General Medical Council in order to work abroad.
Leading healthcare professionals were happy to welcome the news, suggesting that it reflected positively on the recruitment policies of the NHS authorities.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, was optimistic about the data released by Health Education England.
“Employers are reassured to see that the fill rates for medical training programmes have matched previous years. A number of organisations and geographies continue however to face real challenges with vacant medical posts, and they look forward to STP discussions which both alleviate pressure on their services as well as provide support for innovation in their workforce.”
However, although the data can be received positively, it is important to understand that the information does not give any indication requiring the number of doctors who leave training later in their career.
Many royal colleges have already warned of rota gaps at both senior registrar and consultant levels within the healthcare system.
And not all healthcare experts were in accordance with the view that this is a positive indication of the future direction of NHS staffing and training.
Interviewed for comment about the apparent recruitment successes in general practice and emergency medicine, despite the ongoing junior doctor disputes and pressures within the specialties, Andrew Vincent, Partner at Academyst LLP, had an alternative explanation.
“I agree that the behaviour seems contrary to what conditions might suggest. It’s easy when that happens to think you were wrong about the effects of conditions but a more plausible explanation is that a sudden desire to enter a distressed specialty is being driven by motives that aren’t immediately apparent in the figures themselves.”
Vincent continued by giving his personal take on the figures, indicating his view that the data could give a false impression of the actual situation.
“My personal view is that the most likely explanation is that individuals who are thoroughly disgruntled may well see general practice and emergency care as specialties that enable them to move to another health system e.g. Australia, with the greatest ease due to global shortages in these specialties. I would advise HEE and Deaneries to be very cautious about the numbers and perhaps commission some subtle research to better understand just why they have experienced recruitment ease when conditions suggest they should have difficulty. I think it would be dangerous to pat yourself on the back just yet.”
As the junior doctors dispute rumbled on, it was recently announced that there will be a judicial review on the legality of imposing the contractual conditions on healthcare professionals.