Education - the key to solving our workforce problems

31 July 2020

I want to start this week’s blog by sending out a very warm welcome and good luck to all our GP specialty doctors who are either commencing or changing posts next week.

We wish you well and look forward to showing you what a fantastic career general practice is.

I remember clearly during my last senior house officer year (ST2) meeting my colleague Dr Tineka Fearon who was completing her GP registrar year (ST3).

She told me something I recall often: "To treat someone with clinical depression and watch them get better is amazing".

Tineka is now a hugely respected undergraduate teacher in Willowbank Surgery, Keady and was the recipient of the Robin Harland prize for undergraduate medical teaching in 2018.

I am sure her words will resonate with all of us who are working in practice, so if you are a specialty doctor just joining us, you are most welcome.

Education and training

Education is such a vital part of our work and I thank everyone who is involved with this.

I am delighted that this week our colleague Dr Nigel Hart has been appointed Professor of General Practice and Primary Care in Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

Nigel is only the fourth Professor of General Practice in QUB since 1972 and follows his esteemed colleagues Professors Irwin, Reilly and Cupples.

We wish Nigel every success in his new post and we reiterate our commitment to academic general practice and education. We will do everything in our gift to support him. 

We must see both undergraduate and postgraduate education as the key to solving our workforce problems and the future of our profession.

By teaching and inspiring the next generation of doctors and GPs we can literally attract the brightest and the best.

If you are a teaching practice and can help more or would like to get involved in teaching, please get in touch with either ourselves or Dr Louise Sands via NI Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA) and we can signpost you to the right people.

We have such fantastic teachers in general practice and it is vital we support them, so please do all you can.

You can access an interesting article delivering medical education for future healthcare needs by the inaugural dean of the Post Graduate Medical School in Magee Campus Derry/Londonderry, Professor Louise Dubras.

We all have a duty to teach as indicated by the General Medical Council (GMC) and I would be interested in your views on this. You can contact me via email or drop in on the Friday chats below.

GP qualification

During lockdown, RCGP had to suspend our membership exam and in record time create an entirely new assessment.

The first results from our new Recorded Consultation Assessment (RCA) are in and they appear to be largely on a par with the average Clinical Skills Assessment pass rate for 2018-2019.

This is very reassuring as, alongside the pressures of delivering a totally new exam, we received instructions from the government that professional bodies were expected to maintain the standards of their assessments from previous years, despite COVID-19.

We are expecting the next tranche of results in soon and to provide quality assurance, given the emergency development and implementation of the new assessment, a total of 29,042 consultations will have been double marked, meaning that every candidate taking the new RCA will have been assessed by at least 26 different examiners.

The process, from concept of the new RCA to delivery, was eight weeks.

This included tendering for a provider, design of the assessment, GMC approval and a pilot.

Deaneries, including NIMDTA, supported this work by identifying those who needed to CCT quickest, and 1,117 candidates submitted consultations for assessment.

This is effectively over 700,000 minutes of recording, which equals 11,666 hours, 486 days.

Again, a massive thank you to all our trainers and incredible programme directors and colleagues in NIMDTA who have all ensured that we train and accredit doctors with the right level of skills to join us.

If you are a newly qualified GP, we wish you all the best in this new stage of your career.

Working as a new locum can be daunting, so please know you are part of our bigger community, and I know all our members are looking forward to meeting you and will get the kettle on when you arrive at their surgeries.

Please get in touch and let us know how you are getting on, or link in with me personally on one of the Friday sessions listed below.

Future GP

Last week a hugely important document was published from Health Education England (HEE) on the vision of a future doctor (3.14 MB PDF).

This paper was co-created with patients, asking them what attributes they valued in their doctor. It highlighted a range of important issues, such as:

  • doctor-patient relationship
  • generalism
  • leadership
  • multidisciplinary teams
  • population health
  • technology
  • work-life balance
  • the importance of research.

These are absolutely our messages too. In 2012 we commissioned a report on the importance of medical generalism and it is good to see that the generalist role is being recognised.

Our latest position paper, General Practice in the post-COVID World (337 KB PDF), calls for government to:

  • enhance new ways of working by digital technology
  • reduce workload by eliminating unnecessary contractual and regulatory compliance activities
  • develop the public/community health function of general practice.

It also highlights the importance of scholarship - a topic Professor Nigel Hart has advocated on for years, so let me know what you think about either paper. I would really like to hear your views.

Political engagement

It has been a busy week for RCGPNI politically.

We have campaigned for years for clear alternatives to emergency departments (ED) when our patients need escalation of care.

We are supportive of measures which help us work better together with our secondary care colleagues, but having consulted widely with you, our NI Council and our NI Executive Committee, I have fed back to our Health Minister that we need more clarity.

This will help shed light on urgent care centres and who staffs these. GPs have always worked in EDs and will continue to do so.

We cannot, however, support mandating of our staff out of practices where they are badly needed - looking after their own patients.

To discuss these matters more we are holding an emergency RCGPNI Council meeting on Tuesday evening for one hour. You can check to see your local NI Council member is

This highlights the importance of your Council and how your feedback makes a difference at the highest levels.

Please support your local NI Council and executive members who give up their valuable free time to represent you and promote your views.

We also emphasised to the Department of Health the importance of supporting general practice to deliver undergraduate medical education starting in a matter of weeks and our view that the expansion of the Sub-Deanery pilot is a potential way of delivering this.

Please help us in turn by making your practice a home to our students and ensuring we can deliver on this important issue.

Have your say

Finally, I hope to have had a chat with some of you this lunchtime (Friday 31 July).

If you missed it, I will be hosting this informal chat again on Friday 28 August at 1pm and Friday 25 September at 1pm.

It is for 30 minutes and you are welcome for three minutes or 30 minutes.

The purpose is simply to touch base and discuss the issues that are most important to you. There is no agenda and it will be good to catch up.

Post written by

Dr Laurence Dorman, Chair of RCGP Northern Ireland

Dr Laurence Dorman took office in November 2019 after three years as Deputy Chair of Policy for RCGPNI. A GP principal in Mourne Family Surgery, Kilkeel, Co Down, since 2007, he is the fourth generation of GPs in his family. He was also, until recently, the Chair of Newry and District GP Federation. 

Laurence has particular interests in new ways of working in primary care, cancer care, and inspiring the next generation of GPs. He set up the successful Dear Colleague initiative to improve the interface between primary and secondary care and has been a strategic advocate for interface and communication since September 2017.

During his time as Chair, he wants to support College members to ensure that the future of GP services is protected, supported and sustainable.

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