General election 2019: Tory pledge to boost GP numbers

GP taking blood pressure of patient

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The Conservatives say they will fund the training of 500 more GPs in England every year to increase appointments for patients, if they win the election.

They claim the plan would mean up to 3,000 more newly-qualified GPs, or doctors doing their GP training, in surgeries by 2024-25.

However, a previous Tory pledge to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020 is not close to being met.

Labour said it planned to invest in family doctor services and more GPs.

The party added it had become “harder and harder to get a GP appointment under the Tories”.

The Conservatives say their plan would see the current tally of 3,538 GPs in training every year rise to around 4,000 from 2021-22.

Recruiting more GPs from overseas while improving efforts to retain current staff will lead to a total of 6,000 more doctors than there are now, they claim.

But it is not yet clear how this will be achieved.

Number of full-time equivalent GPs

There was an increase of 272 between 2015-2018. The target is 5,000.

The party has also promised to recruit thousands more NHS nurses, physios and pharmacists to work in surgeries.

And it plans to modernise systems for booking appointments and ensure all patients have the choice of a consultation on the phone, on Skype or online.

With more than 300 million appointments every year in England, the Conservatives forecast 15% more being created as a result of these plans.

They have pledged to invest £2.5bn over four years.

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Media caption“You can’t get an appointment” – patients and staff at one GPs’ practice

Waiting times for a GP appointment have become the national conversation – the words of the chair of the Royal College of GPs.

Doctors say they are working flat out but are struggling to keep up with rising patient demand and filling vacant posts in general practice is increasingly difficult.

So how much difference will the Conservative plans make if they are re-elected? Funding extra training places will result in more doctors going into general practice.

But half the 6,000 additional doctors promised by 2024 are assumed to come from international recruitment and better retention of existing staff, neither of which has been easy in recent years.

Some GPs have retired early because of tax bills associated with their pensions, an issue which has not yet been fully resolved.

Achieving that 6,000 total looks a big ask. As the government discovered, setting a target of 5,000 by 2020 was one thing, but achieving it another matter altogether.

The announcement comes after the party promised to make it easier for doctors and nurses from abroad to work in the UK after Brexit, by creating an NHS visa.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We all know the feeling of ringing a GP surgery first thing in the morning, holding on to get an appointment.

“We recognise our GPs are under increasing pressure, so we will put record funding into our GP surgeries, and to help everyone get the care they need,” he said.

Mr Hancock said extra appointments in GP surgeries would be created “with the sort of easy online booking that we expect in other areas of our lives”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth recently announced Labour’s plans to expand GP training places.

At the Labour party conference, he indicated they would increase from 3,500 to 5,000 a year to ease the burden on GPs.

He said: “You can’t trust the Tories with our NHS.

“They always make election promises which they fail to deliver on.

“Tory ministers promised us 5,000 extra GPs but in fact we have lost 1,600 GPs under the Tories.”

GPs said they welcomed the new recruitment commitments.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said GPs were working flat out to try to keep up with rising demand while there was a shortage of doctors and other staff.

“But we need urgent action – both funding and extra staff – to support the GPs who are currently keeping general practice afloat, but are grappling with unmanageable workloads as we go above and beyond to do the best for our patients, often to the detriment of our own health and wellbeing,” she said.

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