Committee of Public Accounts, House of Commons
In March 2016 we reported our concerns that patients’ experience of contacting and accessing their general practices varied significantly between different groups of patients and between different practices. One year on, these concerns persist. The Department of Health (the Department) and NHS England have objectives to improve and extend access, and have made some effort to understand the demand for this extended access.
But they are moving ahead in rolling out extended hours without really understanding the level of access currently being provided or how to get the best from existing resources. Last year we also expressed concern that staffing in general practice was not keeping pace with growing demand.
Despite the government’s target to recruit 5,000 more GPs, the overall number of GPs has reduced in the last year, and problems with staff retention have continued. Health Education England has increased the number of trainee GPs recruited, but still did not manage to meet its recruitment target last year. NHS England and Health Education England have several initiatives in place to boost recruitment further, to make better use of other staff groups, and to ease workload and encourage staff to stay. However, they are pursuing these discrete initiatives without a credible plan for how to develop a cost-effective, sustainable workforce.