• Election pledge will increase primary care workforce by 12,000 by 2024-25 - half of them doctors.
  • The workforce surge would mean there are 50 million more appointments available in GP surgeries

The Conservative party has promised to invest £2.4bn over four years from 2021-22 to increase the numbers of doctors and other clinicians working in primary care.

It would boost primary care’s budget allocations by around £600m a year, should the party win the election.

The announcement claimed the money would be used to train “500 more GPs every year” and that “by 2024-25 we project there will be almost 3,000 additional doctors working and training in general practice” as a result.

It also stated a Conservative government would ”improve the retention of…GPs and nurses, and will work on a number of initiatives to improve international recruitment. We expect these recruitment and retention initiatives to deliver 3,000 more GPs who otherwise would not be working in the NHS.”

There are currently over 34,000 full-time equivalent GPs in England.

Half the money has been committed for hiring 6,000 more non-GP clinicians, such as nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists.

The party said this boost to the primary care workforce would increase the number of appointments in GP surgeries by 50 million.

The promised funding boost would be new money, on top of the £2.8bn allocated to primary care in the long-term plan.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “We recognise our GPs are under increasing pressure, so we will put record funding into our GP surgeries, and help everyone get the care they need. We will create 50 million extra appointments in GP surgeries each year, with the sort of easy online booking that we expect in other areas of our lives.”

At the start of the year, NHS England promised 20,000 more non-GP clinical staff for primary care as part of the additional workforce into primary care networks – a major reorganisation of primary care and a key part of the long-term plan.

The pledge comes at a challenging time for the general practice workforce with GP numbers rising fractionally according to the latest workforce statistics, but with fewer GPs opting to take on the extra burden of becoming GP partners.

More junior doctors are training to become GPs, according to the June workforce statistics, but the retention of GPs later in their career has been highlighted as a major issue.

Earlier this year analysis by the Nuffield Trust suggested there had been a sustained fall in GP numbers per head of population since 2009, after four decades of rising numbers.

In September, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, announced plans to increase the number of GP trainees in England by almost 50 per cent, saying this would provide 27 million additional GP appointments each year once they were trained.

He added: “We’ve lost just over 1,600 full-time GPs under the Tories and GPs tell me they are overworked, exhausted and pushed to the brink.”