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Qualified GP workforce shrinks by almost 700 in 12 months

The number of fully-trained full-time equivalent GPs working in the NHS in England has continued to decline, with a reduction of almost 700 between September 2017 and September 2018. 

Official figures from NHS Digital show that there has been a decrease in the number of substantive FTE GPs - excluding registrars - from 28,874 last year, down to 28,278.

However, when registrars are included, the profession gained 41 full-time equivalent GPs in the past 12 months following a period of decline since 2015.

This reflects the record number of GP trainees recruited by Health Education England this year.

The workforce is still a long way off returning to its previous size. In September 2015 - when former health secretary Jeremy Hunt made his commitment to increase the workforce by 5,000 FTE GPs - there were over 1,500 more qualified GPs in the system.

The RCGP welcomed the rise in overall GP numbers, but warned a ‘sustained and accelerated’ increase is still required.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘It is good news to see GP numbers rising after such a steep decline in recent years.

‘The trajectory is on the up. We now need to see this momentum sustained and accelerated, so that we have the sufficient numbers of GPs we need in the future.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard noted there were more GPs in training than ever before but said ‘urgent initiatives’ were still required to retain GPs.

‘It takes a long time to train a GP and we still need to see urgent initiatives implemented to retain our existing GPs, and to address the unsustainable workload family doctors and our teams are facing on a daily basis,’ she said.

She noted the size of the GP workforce was still smaller than it was when NHS England’s GP Forward View was announced in 2016. The plan promised to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020.

Yesterday the Government announced an additional £3.5bn annual funding for primary and community care by 2023/24, as part of its forthcoming 10-year £20.5bn plan for the NHS.

Professor Stokes-Lampard added: ‘We have heard of £3.5bn extra a year for primary and community care as part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS – it is reassuring that the Government recognises that general practice service is central to the long-term sustainability of the NHS and patient care.

‘But the long-term plan must also be underpinned by a coherent, properly-funded workforce strategy, and address the adverse impact workforce pressures are having on our profession and the care we are able to deliver to our patients in the community.’

Earlier this year the health secretary revealed a record number of GP trainees had been recruited – for the first time meeting the annual target of 3,250, which was originally due to be met by 2015.

Meanwhile, the number of students taking up a place at UK medical schools increased by 9% this year, bucking a decade-long trend of numbers either falling or seeing very small growth.

But the BMA warned at the time it would ‘clearly take time’ to train the new students.

Note: this was edited at 20:15 on 22 November to reflect the number of qualified GPs included in the figures

Readers' comments (14)

  • FULL-TIME LOCUMS? GREAT, THAT WILL HELP WITH THE PAPERWORK

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  • Cobblers

    Don't worry Professor Double-Barrelled. It is but a blip on a long term decline.

    But I admire your optimism. A one time increase is a trajectory!!

    Ever thought about becoming a politician before you become a Dame?

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  • Doctor McDoctor Face

    0.1% is a trajectory?

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  • RCGP and Stokes-Lampost are part of the problem.

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  • Please no lazy journalism! “However when registrars are included....” is inaccurate.

    NHS Digital have changed their counting methodology and are now getting GP placement information from HEE Trainee Information System (TIS). This should be a red flag when there is a shift in numbers. Noise signal.

    The footnote indicates that the GP registrar figures now include Foundation doctors in GP placements. I have long been irritated about counting specialty trainees as GPs. NHS Digital does not count specialty registrars in other specialties as “consultants”. In my opinion counting foundation doctors as GPs is a step too far and the RCGP and BMA should call NHS Digital out on this one instead of meekly accepting fake news.

    I have not seen the individual level data so I don’t know how much of the “growth” can be attributed to foundation doctors. There may be genuine growth in GP registrars. However it is not training throughout that matters, but (i) output and (ii) conversion to substantive NHS workforce. The assumptions for both of these in all the stock and flow models that I have examined are wildly optimistic.

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  • Also the GP registrar full time contract is 40 hours. The NHS Digital definition of FTE is 37.5 hrs per week. So every full time registrar is counted as 1.0666666667 FTE GPs. This has inflated trainee numbers over recent years.

    HEE publish recruitment data about “acceptances” to training rather than commencement or completion of training. These data too are inflated, since some applicant hold places and reapply following years.

    The move to lead employer, taking data from Electronic Staff Record meant that location data under old NHS Digital collection methodology was becoming increasingly inaccurate. HEE TIS ought to be an improvement for location data, which is relevant to local workforce planning.

    RCGP could call these inaccuracies out as they have high quality data from e-portfolio that could give genuine insight into throughput, stage of training, locality and output.

    Poor data leads to poor information leads to poor workforce decisions. But we know that because we’ve lived it!

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  • Appalling if the above comments are true

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  • Does Stokes-Lampost realise that Registrars see a fraction of yhe number of patients seen by fully trained Doctors? That most of them are women who will work, if at all, part-time and likely retire before fifty? Has she seen the number of 457 visas being issued to UK docs leaving for Australia is roughly similar in number to new trainee numbers?

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  • Does she realise that many current retiree counted as full time are 70 hour a week partners, who are being replaced by "full time" 37 hour salarieds?

    Does she realise that the RCGP, through it's support for Revalidation and assorted bureaucratic impositions, has contributed to the mass departure of older Doctors?

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  • David Banner

    The figures are not as important as the experience of flushing thousands of pounds down the toilet on advertising for partners and receiving precisely zero applicants.
    This is here and now.
    And it’s going to get worse.
    Much worse.

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