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GPs buried under trusts' workload dump

Qualified GP workforce falls by 441, official data reveals

The number of fully-qualified GPs in England has fallen by 441 over the past year, according to figures published by NHS Digital. 

Experimental GP workforce data showed that there were 28,697 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in March 2019 - 1.5% lower than March 2018 which had 29,138. 

In the last quarter, the number of qualified permanent GPs (excluding registrars and locums) from abroad has also declined. There were 269 fewer GPs (headcount) from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) than in December 2018, and 96 fewer GPs (headcount) from the EEA.

The headcount of GP partners also dropped to 21,591 - down 3.6% compared to last year. 

It comes after Prime Minister Theresa May promised to recruit 5,000 extra GPs 'as soon as possible'

Heath secretary Matt Hancock said in January that the target would not be met by 2020, as former health secretary Jeremy Hunt had pledged in 2015, but that he hoped it would be 'sooner' than the next five years. 

The workforce data also showed there had been a 0.9% rise in FTE GPs in England overall between March 2018 and March 2019 - to 34,736. 

The number of registrars had seen an uplift, with 149 more in England than in December 2018 (headcount), and a 12% rise since March 2018 which had 5,411 registrars. 

But, there was a 4.7% decrease in EEA-qualified registrars (headcount).

NHS England is due to publish official figures next month on how many GPs have been recruited through the international GP recruitment scheme.

Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee has said the figures demonstrate that GP partners are 'voting with their feet' when it comes to dealing with the stress and pressure of the profession.

She said: 'I think this underlines that doctors are not choosing to be GP partners. They want a decent work-life balance and don't see the current pressures that partners are under can give them this. Partners have the risks of running a small business to deal with such as premises and staff, in addition to the constant risk that all GPs hold clinically. More and more doctors are voting with their feet and saying that 'the clinical risk is enough thank you,' without the added stresses of running a small business.

'In the current climate of increasing private sector involvement in the NHS, the demise of partnerships is worrying. Most GPs would far rather be employed by their partner colleagues rather than the likes of Virgin, but in a fully reinstated, publicly provided NHS. The salaried GP option - where the NHS is the employer (and by this, I don't mean foundation trusts, for example, but a proper nationally run NHS) could be attractive to many more.'

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey, responded to the figures stating that the decline of GP partners was 'worrying' and that 'punitive tax payments related to the current pensions arrangements' are having a direct impact of GP retention.

He said: 'These figures do show a recent rise in overall GP numbers, including those in training, but it is nowhere near sufficient to deal with the reality of what is needed to address the crisis facing general practice. The steady increase in patient demand coupled with hundreds fewer full-time equivalent GPs means that practices across the country are being placed under tremendous pressure and leaving too many patients waiting too long to see their GP.

'Whilst there has been a modest increase in the number of salaried GPs in practices, worryingly the number of GP partners continues to show a stark decline highlighting the pressures faced by partners, who take on risks that are increasingly seen as outweighing the benefits of running their own practices. Punitive tax payments related to the current pensions arrangements are also having a serious impact on the retention of these GPs and must be addressed quickly by government.  

'It is good to see an increase in the number of other healthcare professionals working in general practice and while funding for the expansion of primary care network workforce allocated as part of the GP contract will eventually see a more sustained primary care workforce, there is still much to be done to address the lack of GPs on the frontline as many continue to struggle with rising patient demand.'

Earlier in March, a report by three major think tanks concluded that GP numbers will have 7,000 fewer FTE GPs by 2024, despite the increase in GP trainees.

This comes as an official review of the Babylon GP at Hand model said the NHS should consider Babylon's workforce model to ease the recruitment crisis.

This article was changed at 14:25 on 30 May because there was an error in the original figures

Readers' comments (13)

  • There you go...

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  • are the numbers the wrong way round?

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  • Thanks for pointing this out - it has been corrected

  • 38,685 fully qualified GPs as a headcount - = FTE of 28,697. drop of 441 (1.5%) FTE GPs. nurses up by 1.9% (313) FTE in GP, other noctors by 5.6% (691) FTE and admin by 2.0 % (1320) FTE. so more staff but not doctors.
    we are being replaced by noctors - cheaper and more likely to miss stuff and kill their patients. earlier deaths means less pension payments and care costs, more tax cuts for the rich. I may be cynical but just you wait and see. life expectancy rates already stalling and starting to drop. its like asking the air stewards to fly a plane. they may be very competent and can learn but its not quite the same.

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  • If the BMA had any genuine concern for the wellbeing of it's GP members there would already be a committee working away to produce a plan for a mass exodus of GPs from the NHS into Private Practice. The Dentists already have a better life with Denplan than with the NHS, it could be done.

    But the BMA is more interested in "save the NHS" than saving GPs.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    DOnt forget that a lot of BMA doctors also want gongs for themselves. Though what that achieves, I really don't know.

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  • GPs are being culled. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

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  • Bob Hodges

    The Anarcho-Socialist Collective (aka Tower Hamlets) wants us all to be salaried, and we must put the survival of the NHS as a free at the point of abuse publicly delivered service before the interests and safety and health of the GPs, Nurses and practice staff upon whom it depends.

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  • Daily Wail picks up on this too.......... I wonder if they consider this a success story? After all they've been campaigning for years against these lazy doctors....

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  • please-delete-this-fucking-profile-i-cant-delete-it-in-my-account-settings

    I think people who suggest the central reason people don't want to be partners is 'the stress of running a small business' are missing the point, plenty of people run small businesses - it's the contract that's the problem. GP partners always ran small businesses, it's the contract with the government that makes it so difficult, and to suggest that the salaried option is somehow appealing is a statement from someone who has never been a salaried GP - it's a 'grass is greener' idea. As someone who's only ever been salaried or a locum i can tell you salaried is pretty crap, you have no control, few prospects and the pay is mediocre, you see the same people, with the same expectations, with the same resources available, hold the same clinical risk, often do most of the visits and have zero say in how the system is set up..and why? because of the the nature of the job caused by the government contract. It isn't all about vague ill defined societal changes in what young Drs want , it's because what's on offer running a small business under the current government contract is totally unsustainable, we aren't stupid, GPs don't want to be partners not because GPs have fundamentally changed, what's changed is the contract - it's crap. you won't change this problem by making everyone salaried if demand continues to go unchecked, appointments remain 10 minutes long and who ever happens to be running the service has less and less to fund it. Its not complex , it's a shitty contract , endless demand, unreasonable expectations and suffocating regulation. these problems don't magically disappear employing salaried Drs. The only way to be a truly independent practitioner is to be a locum , and I suspect that's where everyone is disappearing to, if they aren't out and out leaving. it's pretty obvious to me - why do the people in the middle of arranging all this mess make it so mind numbingly complex? it isn't

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  • Well said locum X.......

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