Jeremy Hunt’s weekend GP plans face 1,900 doctor shortfall

BMA says seven-day agenda is in 'complete disarray'


Doctors have said Jeremy Hunt’s plans for a seven-day health service are in ‘complete disarray’ as a watchdog warns there may be 1,900 fewer GPs by 2020.

It comes after the Red Cross said there was a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the NHS.

The National Audit Office (NAO) today says efforts to boost GP numbers are hampered by ‘falling retention, shortfalls in recruitment and increases in part-time working’.

Health Secretary Hunt has promised 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020 to meet a Tory election promise for weekend and evening access to GPs.

But the NAO’s report out today said:

“The latest available data on part-time working in new GPs suggest that there may be 1,900 fewer full-time equivalent GPs by 2020 than Health Education England had estimated there would be.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said the report was ‘further evidence that the government’s plans for extending patient access are in complete disarray’.

He said:

“Policy-makers have underestimated the number of GPs required to deliver their promises by almost 2,000.

This comes at a time when the NHS is already suffering from a chronic shortage of GPs with one in three practices having unfilled doctor vacancies.”

The NAO report finds the Department of Health has also failed to evaluate if its plans are value for money. Extra doctors hours would cost at least £230 per appointment hour for every 1,000 patients, compared with £154 during normal hours.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said ministers are ‘trying to shoehorn in seven-day access to general practice without a clear idea of the additional costs or benefits it will bring patients or taxpayers’.

Hillier, who is a Labour MP, added:

“This is on top of problems for patients in accessing their GP even during a standard working week, when nearly half of all practices close at some point during supposedly core hours, and practices are struggling to recruit and retain enough doctors for existing services.”

Health minister David Mowat said extended GP access is helping take pressire off Accident and Emergency services, and £2.4 billion was being spent to recruit 5,000 more doctors.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The NAO seem to be criticising the rather obvious fact that it inevitably costs more to provide evening and weekend urgent primary care services than it does during Monday to Friday, nine to five.

“The alternative would be that patients simply head to A&E, with all the consequences that brings for more major cases.’

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: However Hunt spins it, abandoning the four-hour A&E target is an admission of failure

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