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At the heart of general practice since 1960

How row over unpaid work has unfolded

Hundreds of practices closed last year as a result of the Government's campaign to rid the NHS of singlehanders.

Shocking statistics on the GP workforce reveal the number of singlehanded GPs in England plummeted by more than a quarter in 2004

alone. The drop ­ from 2,578 to 1,918 ­ was more than

the entire previous decade combined.

The total number of practices in England fell by 291 to 8,542 as a consequence, by far the largest single-year fall since 1994.

Overall, the annual figures revealed a seismic shift in the make-up of the GP workforce.

Part-time GPs now account for more than a quarter of the profession ­ double the level of 10 years ago. Women make up nearly 40 per cent of GPs, up from 28 per cent in 1994, with almost half working part-time.

Some 71 per cent of GP registrars in 2004 were female.

More GPs also worked past 60, attracted by pension increases in the new contract. Eight per cent of GPs are now over 60.

The number of GPs trained in Europe also continues to rise.

Almost 1,500 European GPs were working in England in 2004, compared with 787 in 1994.

Health Secretary John Reid pointed to a record increase of 2.5 per cent in the total number of full-time equivalent GPs ­ from 27,624 to 28,308 ­ as a sign of the success of the Government's retention and recruitment policies.

But GPs said the Government had still not recruited enough full-time doctors since it came to power.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator, said the trend towards part-time working would grow because being a GP was becoming 'physically and mentally tougher'.

Dr Michael Taylor, chair of the Small Practices Association, condemned the closure of singlehanded practices. He blamed 'misconceptions that smaller practices are old-fashioned' among PCTs and registrars.

He said: 'There is a role for the modern singlehanded practice in general practice and it is important that those going through training as well as the PCTs realise this.'

The revolution in the GP workfoce

Year 2004 2003 1994

Practices 8,542 8,833 9,238

Singlehanders 1,918 2,578 2,959

Women GPs (%) 38.8 37.1 28.4

Part-timers 25.5 24.4 12.6

Total full-time GPs 28,308 27,624 26,075

By Joe Lepper

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