Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has joined a call for the government to develop a GP workforce plan ‘as a matter of urgency’.
Hunt – who is now chair of the Commons health and social care committee – is campaigning with the British Medical Association (BMA) and the GPDF, which represents local medical committees, for action to address the workforce crisis, which Hunt described as “the biggest issue facing the NHS”.
“We can forget fixing the backlog unless we urgently come up with a plan to train enough doctors for the future and, crucially, retain the ones we’ve got,” Hunt told The Times.
“As someone who tried hard to get more GPs into local surgeries but ultimately didn’t succeed because the numbers retiring early exceeded those joining, I’m passionate about fixing this.”
The campaign wants the government to deliver a GP workforce plan that meets its election pledge for an extra 6,000 GPs in England, as well as action to tackle the reasons for GPs leaving the profession, such as burnout.
In a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of his Spring Statement on Wednesday, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the lack of official, publicly available workforce assessments and planning makes it difficult to quantify the extend of staffing gaps.
NHS workforce crisis
“The BMA estimates there is an existing shortage of around 46,300 doctors in England,” the letter says, “whilst burnout has led to significant numbers of medical professionals considering leaving the profession or reducing their working commitments.”
The letter calls for the development of a fully-funded workforce plan, a £1bn staff welfare and wellbeing fund, an enhanced remuneration package including an above inflationary pay award, and the expansion of medical school places.
It adds that recent NHS funding announcements do not go far enough to address the crisis.
Last year a letter representing 1.4 million NHS staff warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the pressure of working in a perpetually understaffed health service is unsustainable and threatens the retention of frontline staff.
As health secretary, Hunt clashed with the BMA over pay and conditions, with junior doctors going on strike.
He said: “The BMA and I haven’t always sat on the same side of the table, but I’m joining them and other GPs to sound the alarm about the workforce crisis in our surgeries because we must now rebuild general practice as a matter of urgency.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said there had been an increase of more than 1,600 GPs over the past two years.
“Through the GP access plan, we have made £520 million available to improve access and expand general practice capacity during the pandemic. This is in addition to £1.5 billion announced in 2020 to create an additional 50 million general practice appointments by 2024 by increasing and diversifying the workforce,” it said.