What can be done to tackle the GP shortage?

As the decline in GP numbers steadily continues throughout the UK, many patients are left struggling for appointments. But a team from the University of Plymouth explains how its innovations are designed to help boost numbers – and improve students’ perceptions of embarking on a GP career.

Professor Hisham Khalil, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Plymouth, and Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust:

“The national picture shows us that GP numbers are down by 1,500 in four years, with many GPs retiring from the profession, and those taking up training places not necessarily seeing the training through. 

“There’s a twofold approach here – how do we get people to stay in the profession? And how to we get more people to go into it?

“Here at Peninsula Medical School at the University of Plymouth, we have introduced a number of changes to the curriculum to promote careers in general practice, improving perceptions of what it’s like to be a GP. 

“These include increasing the duration of primary care clinical placements, positive role modelling, by increasing the number of GPs involved in small-group learning and academic tutoring, along with general and specialist training across the spectrum of primary and secondary care (ie GP and specialist).

“We have also designed clinical placements – which is students putting their learning into practice – and special study modules, with the aim of engaging medical students in projects that underpin integrated healthcare and working closely with our NHS partners. 

“An example is the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Virtual Clinics project that I led alongside GP, Dr Jonathan Cope. This innovative pilot aims to enhance the quality of ENT care in the community and, over the last two years, our medical students have been closely involved in the planning meetings, design, set up and evaluation. As part of this project, students are also developing evidence-based educational platforms to support primary care practice.

“The University recently secured 55 extra places for medical students based on our commitment to increasing the number of graduates taking up a career in general practice. And as the lines between primary and secondary care become ever more blurred, we continue our commitment.”

Dr Jonathan Cope, Associate Medical Director in Primary Care at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHPNT) and former Managing Partner of Beacon Medical Group:

“The ENT Virtual Clinics project is one example of the strong partnership between UHPNT and the University of Plymouth that engages medical students in innovative practices and motivates them to consider a career in primary care. We have plans to expand this project to other practices in Devon and Cornwall, with medical students’ participation.

“UHPNT has also introduced new models of healthcare delivery, involving GPs working in a hospital setting including outpatient and assessment units, as well as overseeing discharge plans for patients. This exposes Peninsula Medical School students to the variety of roles that GPs can undertake, and acts as a practical way of promoting careers in general practice.”

Professor Hilary Neve, Professor of Medical Education at the University of Plymouth and practising GP at St Levan Surgery in the city:

“There is a real problem with GP recruitment in Plymouth. We are 30 GPs down, and it’s difficult to keep on top of demand for services. This was recently illustrated in the BBC Panorama programme about general practice involving one of our partners, the North Road West practice. 

“Some of our innovations at the University of Plymouth to promote careers in primary care include the introduction of a Social Engagement week in the curriculum, where students take turns working with a variety of organisations on community-based projects in order to better understand the needs of disadvantaged groups and the important roles GPs can play.

“We have also set up a Teaching Fellow in Primary Care post that combines academic teaching, scholarship in medical education and research with a career in general practice. Supporting students to set up a GP society, endorsed by the Royal College of General Practitioners, further underpins the University’s work to enhance and promote careers in primary care. Our work on the “hidden curriculum”, helping students appreciate the many positive aspects of a career in general practice and to challenge some of the negative language that they hear, has been nationally recognised

“GP numbers aren’t suddenly going to increase overnight, but with the initiatives we’re putting in place at Peninsula, we hope to be a key part of the solution to the current problem.”

Medical school gets approval from students

98 per cent of medical students were satisfied overall with the quality of their course at the University of Plymouth, according to the 2018 National Student Survey.

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As part of our commitment to widening participation to medicine, dentistry and health courses, we undertake a series of initiatives in order to raise aspirations and awareness.