The Conservative Party has said they will deliver 6000 more doctors in general practice in England by 2024-25, to increase patient appointments, if they win the election.

The increase will be achieved through additional doctors working and training in surgeries, international recruitment and better retention, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. The plan would see the current figure of 3538 GPs in training every year rise by about 500 each year over the next four years.

Recruiting more GPs from overseas while improving efforts to retain current staff would lead to a total of 6000 more doctors than there are now, the Conservatives claim. However, it is not yet confirmed how this will be achieved.

Half the 6000 additional doctors promised are assumed to come from international recruitment and better retention of existing staff, which have been challenging issues in recent years. GPs have been retiring early due to increased taxes associated with pensions, an issue which has not yet been fully resolved.

Kings Fund Chief Executive Richard Murray said the announcement only goes part of the way to solving this "vicious cycle" of hiring and retention. He said: "The outflow from General Practice is the problem the Government's facing. They're not succeeding in retaining, particularly older GPs, and younger GPs wanting to work part-time."

In 2015, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to have 5000 more GPs working in the NHS in England by 2020. Matt Hancock acknowledged on BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme that GP numbers had actually decreased since 2015. He admitted: "It's true the number of GPs was falling when I became Health Secretary (in July 2018). The numbers are now rising but I want them to go much further."

There was an increase in the number of full-time equivalent GPs of 272 between 2015 and 2018.

The Conservatives have promised to recruit 6000 more NHS nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists to work in surgeries. It also plans to modernise systems for booking appointments and ensure all patients have the choice of a consultation on the phone, on Skype or online.

The announcement comes after the party promised to create an NHS visa, making it easier for doctors and nurses from abroad to work in the UK after Brexit, with half-price visas and quick decisions for doctors and nurses as part of points-based system.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the measures are part of a plan for an Australian-style points-based immigration system, which "allows us to control numbers while remaining open to vital professions like nurses".

Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive and General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair reserved judgment until there were more details. She said: “A fairer immigration system is a key demand we’re making of politicians this election – valuing skills and not fixating on arbitrary targets – but the devil will be in the detail and we cannot be satisfied by rhetoric alone". She added that it was of deep regret that the charge for overseas nurses to use the services is not being abolished.

Speaking at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) annual conference in October, General Medical Council (GMC) Chair Dame Clare Marx warned that the NHS needed to "remove the barriers" that meant international doctors' skills were not recognised and make it easier for them to work in the UK. She said, in particular, the current process by which GPs who trained overseas apply to join the UK register, the Certificate of Eligibility for GP Registration (CEGPR), was outdated and in need of reform. She also focused on the importance of improving wellbeing among doctors, which she said was key to building a sustainable workforce.

Last reviewed 13 November 2019