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Latest GP census reveals the extent and speed with which general practice is changing

Dr Anne-Marie Cox is a thoroughly modern GP. Working six sessions a week, the 37-year-old part-time GP from Cheltenham epitomises the new, increasingly female face of general practice.

Her choice, to make her work fit with her life and young family, and not vice versa, is at the heart of changes to the GP workforce. 'I think it's much easier to be flexible in general practice than in other jobs,' she says.

Government GP census figures for September 2004 reveal the extent of the trend towards Dr Cox's style of working, away from full-time, male partners.

More than 8,000 GPs in England now work part-time, up from 6,394 in 2003, while the growth in the total number of female GPs, at 9.4 per cent, far outstrips that of male GPs at 1.5 per cent.

There are now nearly 14,000 female GPs in England, compared with just over 20,000 male doctors.

Professor Bonnie Sibbald, professor of health service research at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, said the need for varied and flexible careers lay behind the changes. 'The message is the medical workforce wants job flexibility,' she said. 'Evidence suggests GPs are looking to combine general practice with other medical work.'

Professor Sibbald said better education and training were needed to support the combined managerial and clinical roles GPs increasingly carry out.

The statistics also reveal there are far fewer singlehanded practices. London saw the biggest fall with a 53 per cent reduction.

A trend to larger partnerships continues. There are now 666 practices with eight or more partners, compared with 426 last year ­ a rise of 56 per cent.

GPs warned the trends may come at a price for patients.

GPC chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said GPs must make a serious effort to make sure the 'changing aspirations' in the workforce do not undermine continuity of care.

'You have to work harder at it and there is a certain amount of work involved in ensuring continuity,' he said.

'In some ways it does make life more complicated.'

By Jacqueline Head

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