By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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Jeremy Hunt’s spin over NHS staffing levels will make crisis worse

This article is over 6 years, 9 months old
Issue 2569
Tory health secretary and master of smoke and mirrors Jeremy Hunt
Tory health secretary and master of smoke and mirrors Jeremy Hunt (Pic: NHS Confederation)

Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt is trying to mask the spiralling staffing crisis in the NHS through spin about hiring more workers.

Figures released by NHS Digital last week blew apart Hunt’s promise to increase the number of General Practitioners (GPs) by 5,000 by 2020.

In September 2015, not long before Hunt made the pledge, there were 37,126 qualified GPs in England. After two years of a “recruitment drive” there are 37,753—an increase of 627. Even this tiny increase hides the reality of a service in crisis.

The number of GPs working full time has actually fallen from 29,862 to 29,423—so there are 439 fewer.

Hunt’s “GP Forward View” plan to increase numbers was based around making it easier to hire overseas doctors and incentives to keep older GPs working.

With this plan failing, Hunt has simply unveiled the same plan again with a few changes.

Plans by Health Education England would potentially make it easier for GP trainees to qualify.

They would have a further six months to qualify—and would have six instead of four attempts to pass the final examination.

General Practice is already in crisis, partly because it isn’t attracting newly qualified doctors.

A recent poll by the British Medical Association (BMA) doctors’ organisation found that a third of GP practices had unfilled posts for more than a year.


This has a big impact on patient care as around 90 percent of patient contact is with GPs.

As Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said, “Many GP practices are struggling badly to provide enough appointments and basic services because of endemic staff shortages.”

The rocketing workload means many GPs see up to 60 patients a day as part a tightly packed schedule. Changing that will take more than announcements.

This smoke and mirrors strategy is now a standard part of Hunt’s playbook.

For instance, he said last month that the NHS would hire an army of 10,000 nurses. But he didn’t say how he would do it.

A combination of poverty pay and workloads is pushing nurses out of the NHS.

They have suffered a real terms pay cut of 14 percent since the Tories got into office in 2010 because of their 1 percent public sector pay cap.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called a Scrap the Cap rally in central London for Wednesday of next week as part of its “summer of protest”.

This is an opportunity to fight the Tories over pay—and unite anger that exists across the NHS.

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