24/09/2015 00:01 BST | Updated 23/09/2016 06:12 BST

Jeremy Hunt Backs GP Trainees Campaign Amid Recruitment Crisis

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is backing a campaign to urge junior doctors to become GPs amid turmoil over a proposed new contract.

He said GPs are the "bedrock" of the health service and "there has never been a more exciting time to be a part of general practice".

It comes two days after the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) launched a petition calling on Mr Hunt to provide a "cast-iron guarantee" that plans to impose the new contract on junior doctors would not affect the pay and conditions of trainee GPs.

There is already a recruitment crisis in general practice and the RCGP says talented trainees will be deterred if the new contract goes ahead.

The College wants clarification over several points, including the removal of the GP trainee supplement, which it says ensures GP trainees are no worse off than trainees in other specialties.

It says the lack of detail is already having a "chilling effect" on the number of young doctors choosing to train as GPs.

Chair of the RCGP Dr Maureen Baker has written to Mr Hunt, saying there is "growing confusion and alarm about their situation".

She said: "Imposing the contract will be to drive a coach and horses through our joint recruitment efforts, making the Government's target of 5,000 more GPs by 2020 impossible to achieve."

The new campaign, which will run across social media and digital platforms, aims to inspire young medics to train as GPs, using video, posters and other marketing materials.

Led by Health Education England (HEE), it is backed by the RCGP, the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS England.

A team of qualified GPs will serve as ambassadors to "spread the word" about general practice.

Mr Hunt said: "We already know GPs are the bedrock of our health service - and the NHS's own plan for the future makes them the driving force for change in the way we care for people.

"As the campaign says, there has never been a more exciting time to be a part of general practice - and I hope this will help to attract the GPs of tomorrow."

Professor Simon Gregory, HEE clinical lead for the campaign, said: "I have worked in general practice for more than 20 years and it has been a truly stimulating and rewarding career.

"I'd love other young people coming through medical school now to feel the same way towards general practice as I do."

Dr Baker said she hoped the campaign would tackle the perception that general practice "is not as exciting as other medical specialties".

She added: "Nothing could be further from the truth. I've been a GP for more than 30 years - it is a stimulating and diverse profession that offers numerous opportunities."

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, national medical director at NHS England, said GPs are the "backbone of our NHS".

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chairman of the BMA's GP education, training and workforce subcommittee, said: "It is important that we change perceptions of general practice and inspire the next generation of medical graduates to become GPs.

"However, this campaign is only one part of a wider solution and the Government has to address these core problems so that we can truly attract the GPs we need.

"Current proposals to cut GP trainee pay by removing the training supplement will hardly encourage new doctors into general practice and comes at a time when there were 600 trainee vacancies across the country this year."

According to the Department of Health, Mr Hunt has already said in a letter to the RCGP that GP trainees will not be worse off as result of the contract proposals.

It said the Government will not remove incentives for hard-to-recruit specialities like general practice and the New Deal for GPs will see 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020.

It said it was irresponsible of the BMA to refuse to negotiate on how a new contract should work for its members.