A leading healthcare expert is optimistic that the change in GP training from three to four years can be cost-neutral.

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), told pulsetoday.co.uk that the first four-year students are likely to begin their studies in 2014; although formal approval of the reform must still be confirmed by Medical Education England and the Treasury.

The concern is that fourth-year trainees could be sent out to work under a new tariff scheme to help with funding - a move that Dr Gerada did not fully dismiss. She said: "Trainees are not going to be cheap labour. It's our job to concentrate on the educational case. [The plans] have to be cost-neutral, that was the deal - and I'm optimistic we can achieve this."

Last week, the Medical Programme Board (MPB) approved the proposal to extend the length of medical training for GPs; the first major hurdle for the plans. Spending longer on a training course of this kind should give doctors more time to learn their trade.

According to managementinpractice.com, Dr Gerada commented that the decision to extend doctor training schemes is not a criticism of the current system, merely an admission that the needs of communities are changing. She accepted that the MPB backing was the "beginning of a long road", but said she was "absolutely thrilled".

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