Plans already revealed by Jeremy Hunt regarding boosting GP numbers by the end of the decade will flounder, according to modelling conducted by primary care researchers.
Hunt had intended to ensure that there are 5,000 further doctors in the country by 2020, but the most optimistic scenario produced by a team at Imperial College pours cold water on this suggestion.
Researchers found that it will be necessary for GP head counts to increase by 12,000 in order to compensate for growing population, while increasing consultation complexity will also pose logistical difficulties.
The modelling exercise unquestionably outlines why the primary care system in England is already virtually bursting at the seams.
Research conducted by Imperial College has yet to be published, and those involved in the study have acknowledged that it is not an exact estimation of doctors required in the NHS system.
But the advantage of this research is that it provides a comprehensive and transparent methodology which has not been possible with previous estimates.
Conversely, the Department of health has been reluctant to reveal any such methodology underlying its estimates and figures.
And the results of the study state that “the most conservative of our models leads us to believe that over 12,000 additional GPs will be required by 2020, at a likely cost of £2.3 billion”.
Researchers also suggested that the target could inflate once the impact of Britain’s exit from the EU becomes apparent.
GP, and department head, Professor Azeem Majeed, believes that the figures provided by the government are somewhat nebulous.
“The background to this project was that various bodies (e.g. Department of Health, RCGP) have published estimates of how many more GPs the NHS in England needs. However, it wasn’t clear what methods were used to derive these estimates (in the case of DH, there do not appear to have any calculations done to support the estimate of 5,000 more GPs by 2020)”.
And Majeed went on to explain the work done by researchers at Imperial College, and the ultimate impact of the estimates made by the academics.
“Our results suggest that the demands on the GP workforce will increase still further, putting GPs and their teams under considerable strain. Given the problems in recruiting GPs, there is no obvious way for the NHS to produce the number of GPs the NHS needs by 2020. It seems likely that for the foreseeable future, the Department of Health and NHS England will have to look upon GPs as a “scarce resource” and decide what work it wants them to focus on to give them a reasonable working week to avoid burnout, and prevent problems with recruitment and retention”.
Responding to the research, a spokesman for the Department of Health suggested that the review conducted by the government had been independent and should be viewed as credible.
“Our ambitious target to recruit 10,000 new primary care staff by 2020, including 5,000 new doctors in General Practice, is based on an independent review of primary care services. We are working towards this ambition with NHS England and Health Education England to help deliver a safer NHS for patients seven days a week. We are also boosting GP funding by £2.4 billion a year by 2020/21 and taking measures to retain and return GPs to the workforce”.
A multitude of recent reports have suggested that general practice is under tremendous strain at present.