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GP Retirement

Volume 593: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2015

2. What contingency plans his Department has formulated to cope with the expected increase in the number of GPs retiring before 2020. (907643)

In addition to the extra 1,000 GPs working in our NHS since 2010, our mandate to Health Education England will ensure that 50% of trainee doctors enter GP training programmes by 2016. This will enable the delivery of 5,000 additional newly qualified GPs by 2020.

I am told that many young doctors are choosing not to go into general practice. That, coupled with the number of retiring GPs, is leading to real shortages in places such as Clacton. What more can be done to make general practice more attractive to young doctors, in order to offset the number of GPs who are retiring?

There have always been parts of our health service where it has been difficult to attract GPs to work; that is a long-standing problem. A new £10 million investment fund has been put in place, and a new 10-point plan is being delivered by NHS England to look at how we can better incentivise younger doctors to work in areas in which it has traditionally been difficult to recruit. I am sure that that will bring benefits to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and elsewhere in the NHS.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not just a matter of the total number of GPs? Quite a lot of GPs now want to work part time, and quite a lot now want to be salaried rather than being partners. Is he confident that the model that was set up in 1948, which effectively means that each GP practice is its own separate, private business, is still suitable in the 21st century?

My right hon. Friend asks an important question. We can of course support the existing model, and the innovation that comes with GPs being small businesses, and that is exactly what we are doing with the £1 billion investment fund for GP infrastructure and technology. We are supporting those GPs as small businesses to develop better patient services.

On what is his last outing, will the Minister tell us how many GPs, in addition to those who have retired, have left the profession and how many have gone to work abroad?

It has always been the case—it was certainly the case among many of my medical contemporaries—that many people from our NHS go and work overseas for some time. They often come back to the NHS, bringing broader experience and skills. As I outlined earlier, there are now 1,000 more GPs working and training in our NHS than there were five years ago.

Following the retirement of a senior partner whom it has been impossible to replace, Dr Hadrian Moss of the Dryland GP surgery in Kettering has followed the advice of the British Medical Association and informally closed his expanded list of 2,500 patients on the ground of patient safety. He has now been taken to task by NHS England for a potential breach of contract. What is the Minister’s opinion on reconciling the views of the BMA on patient safety guidelines and those of NHS England on a potential breach of contract?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that it is difficult for me to comment on an individual case, but I am very happy to look into the matter and get back to him about it.

Given that the needs of patients must come first and that young people are not choosing to pursue GP training as much as they used to, what discussions will the Secretary of State hold directly with the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the training councils and his colleagues in the devolved Administrations throughout the UK to address this issue, to prevent further congestion in accident and emergency departments?

There is a lot of work going on in this area. First, we are encouraging and supporting GPs who have had career breaks, perhaps because they have started a family, to get back into the profession more easily than they have been able to do in the past. Secondly, we also have the commitment that 50% of medical students and doctors leaving foundation training will become GPs in future. That will make sure that we have 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

But the Government’s reorganisation took billions of pounds away from the NHS front line. Figures released last week show that fewer than a quarter of medical students now enter general practice, because they can see the pressure that Ministers have put on it, while GP morale has collapsed. Should the Minister not now admit that the reorganisation was a mistake and instead match Labour’s pledge to invest an extra £2.5 billion a year to recruit 8,000 more GPs and guarantee appointments within 48 hours?

I know that the Labour party is full of professional politicians, but medical students do not just leave medical school and straight away become GPs; they become foundation doctors. As I have outlined, 50% of the people leaving their foundation training will become GPs in future, which will increase the number of GPs by 5,000. Under this Government the number of GPs in education, training and working in the NHS has increased by 1,000, which is a move in the right direction.