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A faulty production line

GP numbers drop by 2% in blow to Government's recruitment pledge

GP numbers decreased by an estimated 2% last year, official data have revealed, in a blow to the Government’s pledge to grow the workforce by 5,000 during this Parliament.

Figures published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that there were 34,100 full-time-equivalent GPs, excluding locums, working in GP practices in England as at 30 September 2015.

The HSCIC said this was an estimated 657 (1.9%) fewer than in 2014. When including locums, there were 34,600 full-time-equivalent GPs.

The data release also showed that in the GP practice workforce in England there were:

  • 15,400 FTE nursing staff, an increase of 2.2% (336) since 2014.
  • 9,150 FTE direct patient care staff, a decrease of 1.4% (129) since 2014.
  • 63,700 FTE admin/non-clinical staff, 0.5% fewer (328) than 2014.

Commenting on the news, GPC workforce lead Dr Beth McCarron said: ‘Unfortunately, considering the ongoing difficulty general practice faces I’m not remotely surprised.

‘I’m surprised it’s not more because, anecdotally, I hear many reports of GPs going part time and doing other things just to try and help them cope with the intensity and complexity of their workload.

‘The idea that they’re going to find 5,000 extra doctors in the GP Forward View, it certainly doesn’t look as though doctors will be GPs in any great numbers, and that is a huge concern.’ 

She added that the decrease in other staff providing direct patient care was no surprise either, despite the recent policy to hire clinical pharmacists and physician associates to relieve GPs of workload.

Dr McCarron said: ‘We’ve had overwhelming cuts in our funding, so how on earth are we supposed to take on staff if we can’t afford to pay for them?’

The leader of the Government’s primary care workforce commission, Professor Martin Roland, former GP and professor of health sciences at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘If GP numbers aren’t increasing, this is very disappointing, and shows the challenge the NHS will have in reaching 5,000 extra GPs by 2020.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to our target of 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020. NHS England is taking action to double the growth rate in GPs through new incentives for training, recruitment, retention and return to practice.

‘NHS England’s GP Forward View, which commits an extra £2.4 billion for general practice by 2020/21, will help to reduce the pressure on GPs and retain a healthy workforce well into the future.’

This is the first publication of data since GP practices were required to submit the Minimum Worforce Data Set since last year, which is intended to improve the reliability of the data for the future.

Although changes to the methodology mean the new figures cannot be directly compared with previous years’ publications, HSCIC has recalculated 2014 figures using the same methodology to provide accurate year-on-year comparisons, although it pointed out that these were estimates.

The pledge of 5,000 extra GPs by 2020

The news comes as a Pulse analysis revealed that the Government is a long way off its target, with best-case scenario figures showing they would recruit less than half of their target by 2020.

It also comes as Pulse revealed that the Government is hoping to bring in up to 400 GPs from India to help it reach the target.

The General Practice Forward View, published last week, confirmed plans to bring in more than 500 fully trained GPs from overseas.

In the foreword to the document, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said NHS England, HEE and CCGs would be ‘pulling out all the stops’ to try to boost the GP workforce by 5,000.

He said: ‘We all accept that we have a long way to go to hit the ambitious recruitment targets set for primary care, but we must use every effort to try, as this will be necessary for much of the reform required.’


Readers' comments (25)

  • They've got a snow ball in hells chance of reaching anywhere near target.They will be lucky to stand still with the number of 50 somethings going in the next few years.Lets see what they can lie about to fit this with their spin.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The truth is still out there.
    They know that . For people like Agent Hunt and Harvey Dent , they said things even they could not believe could happen , for the sake of defending the government .
    As I said , history will judge.
    Though, took 27 years of history to bring justice to our 96 LFC fans , YNWA.....

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  • The data is flawed - this years data does not include locums where it did last year.

    Not directly comparable!!

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  • 10.20 That may be because there are not many locums left to recruit! We are certainly struggling to get any round here.

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  • Even Indian doctors are waking up to the reality of the NHS.When stuffed, look for Indian doctors and then pull them up to the GMC when the purpose is served !!! to get rid of them.

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  • Only dropped by 2% - that is amazing. Next year the drop will be far higher . It will be at least 6 %.

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  • 2% reduction in GP numbers! Might not seem like much but going backwards is going backwards, huh!

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  • it doesn't matter - the 5000 'pledge' will be forgotten or they will make something up. I think the public are used tho the fact that politicians lie, exaggerate, change the rules. They will continue to vote for whoever gives them the most money.

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  • ‘Pulling out all the stops’ -- how about

    1st stop sleep walking till the NHS royally screwed up !

    2nd stop those idiots in ivory towers think they know the best!!

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  • The 2014 figures are "rebased" to hide a much bigger drop caused by many years of counting posts rather than occupants. If you look at full time equivalent GPs excluding locums, registrars and retainers; then the drop is 3,357 full time equivalents; more than 10% of the trained substantive GP workforce and in keeping with reported GP vacancy rates.

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