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Government's GP recruitment data found to be 'seriously flawed' as GPC calls for withdrawal

Exclusive Plans to boost GP recruitment in under-doctored areas have been undermined after Pulse found that data being used to identify the worst hit areas are ‘seriously flawed’, leading the GPC to call for its withdrawal.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced publication of the GP staffing data on the MyNHS website as part of the Government’s ‘new deal’ for general practice and plans to boost recruitment to ‘under-doctored’ areas.

However, the MyNHS data reports have already back-fired after Pulse found data suggesting numerous practices have less than one-tenth of a full-time equivalent GP for practice populations of thousands of patients.

Practice managers said the figures quoted for their workforce were ‘rubbish’, while the GPC has said that the data appears to be ‘seriously flawed’ and should be withdrawn.

This is the latest of the Government’s moves towards ‘transparency’ that has been strongly criticised as misleading and unhelpful, after the CQC was forced to pull its ‘intelligent monitoring’ publication and apologise when data were found to be unfair and crucially flawed.

The new ‘practice workforce’ data provide the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs at each practice, as well as the number of patients and number of GPs per 1,000 patients.

But a number of practices have told Pulse that data about them on the website is wrong, while there is questionable data on a number of other practices.

Practices who stated that their data was wrong included:

  • One practice manager with a MyNHS figure of below one FTE GP, who did not want to be named, said: ‘That’s rubbish, I don’t recognise that figure. I would say it was around one and a third. I would like to know how they arrived at their figures, it’s almost as though they put their finger in the air and came up with the estimate.’
  • Another manager, whose practice was listed as having 0.31 FTE GPs, said: ‘We’ve got one full-time GP who does every session - nine sessions a week. So we are open every session.
  • A third said their figure of 0.64 FTE GPs was ‘simply wrong’ as the practice had one GP, who ‘works more than full-time hours’.

But there was also questionable data on a number of other practices, including one practice with over 7,000 registered patients listed as having zero FTE GPs, and another as having 0.04 FTE GPs for over 2,000 patients.

More than 100 practices are listed as having less than one-fifth of an FTE GP per thousand patients - equating to a GP per 5,000 patients. Pulse tried contacting these practices but only three responded.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said the data appeared ‘seriously flawed’ and ‘cannot be relied upon to make any judgements at all and so should be withdrawn’.

Dr Vautrey noted there are no accurate records of the FTE GP numbers available currently.

He said: ‘One of the outcomes of the current workforce data collection is to resolve this issue, but that’s not completed yet.’

The Department of Health (DH) said the data provided a ‘snapshot’ of the most up-to-date workforce figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre and that the MyNHS site explained how to put the data in context.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘The data published in MyNHS is an accurate snapshot of the GP Workforce Census. It contains detailed supporting information which puts it into the correct context, and explains how this data should be interpreted.’

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Readers' comments (23)

  • I cannot agree - FTE for staffing levels means 9 clinical sessions. If we say that 6 sessions is full time, we will let the goernment overestimate the number of GPs and show that there is no crisis. I am not belittling the work of GPs who do 6 sessions - my 6 other doctors all do 6 and in one case 5 sessions.But if you replace a full time doctor who does 10 sessions, as I do, with a doctor who does 6 sessions, this is not the same. I am not interested in the semantics of FTE but want to make sure that General Practice is fully staffed and that we compare like with like.

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  • But one practices might have leisurely sessions and no paperwork, whilst another has busy long sessions, visits and paperwork.
    7 sessions here yet that is too much and >40 hours!

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  • Obviously practices vary - I work in a busy deprived area - but surely FTE means just that. Of course most GPs work far more than a 'full day' but equating 3 days to full time in GP terms allows the goverment to massage the figures in their favour. It is not about the level of work - we all know that has increased massively - it is about comparing like with like.

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