16th May 2019 Written by Andrew Lovegrove

Image: GP’s at breaking point – a new look at solving the primary care crisis.Figures released and reported by the BBC last week show the first sustained fall in GP numbers in the UK for 50 years. As our population increases and ages, the numbers of GPs is declining rapidly. The report highlights the need to drastically reconsider all the ways healthcare employers currently recruit, train and retain their staff.

An analysis by the Nuffield Trust think tank for the BBC shows the number of GPs per 100,000 people has fallen from nearly 65 in 2014 to 60 last year. The report continues to explain that ‘The last time numbers fell like this was in the late 1960s and it comes at a time when the population is ageing and demands on GPs are rising.’

Whilst it’s not news that the NHS is struggling with recruitment and retention across the board. There are constant reports about the pressure facing the healthcare workforce, an aging population with growing demands on service, coupled with a healthcare workforce aging and traditional supply routes yielding fewer numbers. This new report from the BBC shows a significant and tangible example of the number of clinicians leaving the NHS, and the impact on the sectors ability to continue the care it provides.

Employers and leaders within the healthcare sector need to reassess their efforts in recruitment and retention, there needs to be different approaches to bringing in good people to the workplace; coupled along with new roles and ways of working to ensure high standards in patient care.

It’s important to raise more awareness also about all the routes that people looking to become a clinical practitioner can take, which includes apprenticeships. Employers could also benefit from helping to support apprenticeships throughout their training, normally promoting long-term commitment and a positive cultural fit for the apprentice, in turn improving retention.

Apprenticeship have recently gone through an overhaul in England, and it has left some employers confused and unsure of how they are supposed to work under the new system. In 2017, the Government created the Apprenticeship levy, to support the funding of recruitment for apprentices in a wide range of professions and levels, even for up-skilling the workforce and supporting on-going staff training. It’s crucial that employers look at all routes to recruit new staff, and apprentices could be a key focus to help shortages in primary care, helping to tackle the huge pressures being faced.

Apprenticeships can also help to develop a wider set of skills amongst support staff, healthcare assistants and other professions, allowing tasks to be carried out by other healthcare professionals could help alleviate the growing pressures for GP’s and clinicians, and perhaps provide a more robust long-term solution to the crisis.

Whilst today’s headlines focus on GP shortages, tomorrows could equally be a lack of nursing recruitment, or a high early retirement rate. Every organisation will have a variety of unique workforce demands, closely linked to the required services in their region. Nonetheless, the overarching theme remains the same, there are shortages across the board. Organisations first need to understand where their biggest shortages lie, what the services at risk are, and how the skills of their workforce need to adapt to combat the issue. Apprenticeships offer an all-round benefit with hundreds of new apprenticeship standards in England, there are now so many ways develop new skills and services in specialist clinical areas.

The report by the Nuffield Trust believes another 3,500 GPs would be needed to get the NHS back to where it was in 2014. Apprenticeships could be the answer to bring more people into the profession and develop the skills needed to bridge this gap.

There is no quick fix to the recent report into GP retention rates, but we must start considering training and apprenticeship delivery across all areas of the sector, if we are to continue to provide long-term quality healthcare for all.

Skills for Health has a wide range of supporting tools and expertise for employers who are considering apprenticeships - from reviewing and creating healthcare standards, through to understanding the register of training providers, Ofsted and end-point assessment (EPA) – just some of the many considerations for employers if they are to tackle long-term retention issues, skills shortages, and of course see return-on-investment of levy payments.