RCGP raises concerns the NHS Long Term Plan will fall short for GPs

The College responds to new National Audit Office report showing improvements are needed in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "When the NHS launched their workforce plan, we warned that the devil would be in the detail - today’s report make shows that many of those details fall far short of what is needed for patients struggling to access our services, and hard-working GP teams working in the face of intense workload and workforce pressures.

“The stark disparity between the increase in numbers of qualified doctors expected to be working in general practice within the next decade compared to secondary care is particularly worrying - and we would like to understand better, why this is predicted and what is being done to address it. NHSE have committed to review and refresh their numbers for the plan and it is vital that they look again at the balance between primary and secondary care. 

“It is, of course, good that central to the LTWP plan is a significant increase in training places for general practice, but trainees should not be relied upon to plug workforce gaps, alone. They are in training to learn - and while this includes delivering vital care for patients, this is not the primary purpose of training. It is also the case, as the NAO report makes clear, that supervising GP registrars has significant workload implications for qualified GPs - and this risks decreasing the amount of time they are able to spend with patients.  

“We urgently need - as the College has said since before the LTWP was launched - urgent and radical retention strategies to be implemented, to keep qualified GPs at all stages of their careers in the profession, delivering patient care and training our new generation of GPs. Currently, we know, the intense pressures of the job are leading to many leaving earlier than planned - 25% of GPs in a recent survey said they were planning to leave in the next four to five years. 

“There is a similar issue with SAS doctors: the NAO reports NHSE placing a high reliance on this cohort of doctors fulfilling the aims of the LTWP, yet we have no idea as yet how these doctors could and would safely and effectively be integrated into general practice. Trainees and SAS doctors are not experienced, fully trained GPs, but the concerns repeatedly raised by the College about this have not been addressed at all. 

“Of further concern - and we have been pleased to see this highlighted specifically in today’s report - is that our members have reported a key barrier to training more GPs being a lack of adequate space to do so safely in practices. Recent polling by the College found that two in five GPs said their practice was not fit for purpose, of these, alongside safety and access concerns for patients, 75% said there wasn’t enough space to take on additional trainees.   

“We must not lose hope in the LTWP - it has good intentions and is the only plan we have to ensure we have enough people working in the NHS, delivering patient care and safeguarding its future. But it will not work if concerns around plans to grow the GP workforce are not listened to - we absolutely must train thousands more GPs, but we absolutely must also work to keep the hardworking and experienced existing GPs we have in the profession.  

“The College has set out seven solutions for safeguarding the NHS - including a national retention scheme to keep GPs at all stages of their career longer, delivering patient care, as well as significant investment in GP infrastructure - in our manifesto, which all political parties must take heed of as we approach the General Election.” 

Further information

RCGP press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editors

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.