The Royal College of GPs is proposing to set up a back to work scheme to create a “short term surge” in GP numbers and help fill what it says is an urgent shortage.

The RCGP is also calling for government action to increase the proportion of doctors becoming GPs in the medium and long term.

Recent months have seen particular concern about unsafe staffing levels for out of hours’ primary care and a lack of access to urgent primary care appointments.

The chair elect of the college Maureen Baker told HSJ the situation was sufficiently urgent that she wanted the college to help fill the gap in the short term by encouraging GPs who were not working to do so, and others to increase their hours.

She said: “I don’t think we’re optimally using the trained GP workforce we already have. So I’m going to be looking at what I’m calling a short term surge in the GP workforce.

“Are there trained GPs who are either not working or not working as much as they want to, and can we identify these doctors and bring them into the workforce?

“This is a short term finger in the dyke. The real issue is longer term, bringing doctors into the general practice workforce, and [changing the] wider workforce and skill mix.

“But, as we are at the moment, we haven’t got enough GPs. It is a short term, fairly circumscribed project.”

Dr Baker said the timing and details of the work had yet to be decided, and it would require funding from government or NHS England, including to help pay for the GPs’ additional time. She will succeed Clare Gerada as RCGP chair in November.

In relation to out of hours care, Dr Baker said there should be a national consideration of “principles” and models for future services, with RCGP involvement. She suggested principles could include greater involvement of an areas’ GPs, and that outside normal hours primary care could “provide emergency and urgent care but not attempt to do all routine work as well”.

Each area would then “work out for its patients and facilities and resources how they can best deliver out of hours care” according to those principles.