Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has appeared to back proposals for the proposed extension to GP training, claiming it will help general practice to "get where we want it to be".
Speaking at thinktank Reform's conference in London last week (16 May), Lansley acknowledged the need for a further expansion of the GP workforce, anticipating 50% of the newly-trained medical workforce will go into general practice in the future.
He also came out in support for extended GP training.
"Extending the overall period of time in which GPs are trained… should give us an opportunity to extend a GP's expertise in some areas," he said.
"GPs themselves feel strongly they want to be sure they have pediatric and mental health experience in their training more consistently than has been the case in the past.
"[Extending GP training] will help us get to where we want general practice to be - people who are increasingly confident in not only diagnosing and referring patients in the community, but designing care to support them."
Dr Joe Rosenthal, Programme Director for GP training at the Royal Free Hospital in London, is currently piloting a four-year GP training course and said Lansley's comments are "very positive".
"He looks as though he is supporting the Royal College of GP's (RCGP) proposals, which is good news for general practice," he said.
Dr Richard Vautrey, Deputy Chair of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, also welcomed Lansley's comments.
"It is important we recognise the complexities of general practice and the challenges involved in fitting in the current curriculum into three years.
The BMA GPC supports the extension of GP training in order to be able to create a space to get those enhanced skills that will be required to be a GP in the future."
Last month, NHS Medical Education England's Medical Programme Board (MPB) agreed the RCGP put forward a "good educational case" for an extra year GP training – taking it from a three-year to a four-year course.
The next stage of deliberation will take place between the RCGP and Professor David Sowden, Director of Medical Education England at the Department of Health and Co-Chair of the MPB.
"Following agreement from MEE's Medical Programme Board that the RCGP bid should proceed to the next stage, it has been agreed that the educational case for enhanced and extended training will be considered at the full MEE Board in September," said a spokesperson from Medical Education England. "We are still at an early stage in the process and issues such as affordability, the economic case and wider implementation across the UK will need to be considered at a later stage."