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NHS workforce plan relies on ‘significant’ substitution of qualified GPs, NAO warns

NHS England’s workforce ambitions are based on ‘significant’ substitution of fully qualified GPs with trainees and specialist and associate specialist (SAS) doctors, the public spending watchdog has revealed.

In a new assessment of the NHS long-term workforce plan, the National Audit Office (NAO) found that NHS England’s modelling of the future workforce had ‘significant weaknesses’ and that some of its ‘assumptions’ may have been ‘optimistic’.

Last year, the national commissioner committed to doubling medical school places to 15,000 and increasing GP training places to 6,000 by 2031. 

This was based on modelling which predicted that, without these changes, the NHS could face a staffing shortfall of 360,000 and a GP shortfall of 15,000 by 2036.

The NAO’s report has examined the robustness of NHS England’s predictions, and made a number of recommendations which could influence the refreshed projections NHSE has committed to publishing every two years.

The long-term workforce plan (LTWP) projected only a 4% increase in fully-qualified GPs between 2021 and 2036, compared to a 49% growth in consultants. 

"The total supply of doctors in primary care is projected to increase substantially over the modelled period but the total number of fully qualified GPs is not," the report said. 

It found that NHSE’s projected supply growth in general practice "consists mainly of trainee GPs", who accounted for 93%, as well as "making increased use of specialist and associate specialist (SAS) doctors in primary care". 

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Source: Pulse, 22 March 2024


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