The new Prime Minister has omitted the target of recruiting 6,000 more GPs from his brief for the health secretary, a newspaper has claimed.
The target was a 2019 manifesto commitment from the Conservative Party at the last election, but last year then-health secretary Sajid Javid admitted that the Government will fail to fulfil the election pledge.
Now the Guardian has reported that Rishi Sunak’s appointment letter to health secretary Steve Barclay quietly dropped the target to recruit 6,000 more GPs in England by the end of 2024.
The official appointment letter – seen by the Guardian – set out expectations for what the health secretary should deliver by March 2024, it said.
But while it included key health pledges from the manifesto such as 50,000 more nurses and the delivery of ‘new’ hospitals, the GP recruitment pledge was ‘notably absent’, the newspaper claimed.
The letter said that the party’s manifesto commitments should be ‘the foundation of our priorities’ and that the health secretary should ‘grip delivery of key manifesto commitments to build a stronger NHS and social care system’, according to the report.
It added that the letter said: ‘These are the promises on which we were elected, for which the people gave us a mandate, and on which we must make good.’
The BMA said that the Government should have the ‘good grace to openly admit’ it has failed in it GP manifesto commitment rather than ‘pulling the wool over our eyes’.
BMA GP Committee deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said: ‘If these reports are true, the health secretary has been dispensed of the ultimate humiliation of admitting that the Government has failed in its manifesto commitment to grow the GP workforce by 6,000 GPs by 2024.
‘The Government should have the good grace to openly admit this rather than quietly dropping the commitment from Steve Barclay’s task list.’
He added: ‘Since the Government first pledged to grow the GP workforce, practices have been decimated by workforce shortages, with GPs and their patients suffering the consequences.
‘It is becoming increasingly clear that the cavalry is not coming. We are haemorrhaging doctors in general practice as GPs leave the profession or reduce their hours to manage unsustainable workloads.
‘Ultimately, GPs and patients deserve more than broken promises. Instead of pulling the wool over our eyes, the Government should be open that it is failing in its manifesto pledge and talk to GPs about the solutions – to do nothing threatens to make this situation far, far worse.’
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told Pulse that while it recognises that ‘growing the GP workforce is challenging’, the Government ‘remains committed to increasing the number of doctors in general practice’.
They added: ‘There were nearly 2,300 more full-time equivalent doctors working in general practice in September 2022 compared to the same time in 2019 and a record-breaking number started training as GPs last year.
‘We are also making 4,000 training places available for GPs each year to help create an extra 50 million appointments a year.’
The Government has also commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to help recruit and retain more staff, they said.
Last month, the BMA said that the Government ‘should not be proud of’ small increases in the number of full-time fully-qualified GPs, amid a rise of 50 GPs between July and September this year.
The latest data showed that the number of full-time fully-qualified GPs has dropped by 1,800 in the last seven years.
And the BMA recently warned that there has been a 16% rise in the number of patients per full-time equivalent (FTE) GP in the past seven years.
Meanwhile, the GMC has announced radical new proposals that will enable thousands of secondary care SAS doctors to enter general practice in a bid to solve the workforce crisis.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.