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GP workforce shrunk over the past year in major blow to 5,000 target

The number of GPs working in the NHS in England has dropped in the past year, striking a blow to health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s commitment of delivering 5,000 extra GPs by 2020.

The number of GP full-time equivalents including trainees fell to 34,495, down by 96 on September 2015, and this was even echoed in a drop in the headcount of GPs.

Despite NHS England and education bosses claiming ‘record numbers of doctors’ being recruited to GP training this year, this has not been enough to offset the rates of GPs leaving and changing workforce patterns.

The NHS Digital figures are billed as ‘provisional experimental’ after changes to the methodology of counting GP numbers last April. Last year’s report, which was the first to use the new methodology, revealed a 2% decrease in the number of full-time equivalent GPs.

But these latest figures strike an even greater blow for Mr Hunt’s commitment to delivering 5,000 more GPs ahead of the 2015 general election as they incorporate efforts made by the Government and NHS England to reach this target.

In January 2015, training bosses and GP leaders drew up a ’10-point plan’ for boosting the recruitment of new GPs and the retention of senior and mid-career doctors.

After years of stagnation HEE reported that a record number of doctors had opted for GP training, with numbers boosted by £20,000 incentive schemes and overseas placements.

However, these efforts have been countered by a higher number of GPs leaving the profession through early retirement or moving overseas, which has particularly affected the number of GP partners (see table below). 

GP leaders warned the latest figures showed the workforce crisis was set to worsen.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said: ’These figures clearly demonstrate that the crisis in general practice is getting worse, not better. GP practices across England are struggling to provide enough appointments because they do not have the GPs to see the sheer number of patients coming through the surgery door.’

He added that the ‘disastrous situation’ was a sign that NHS England and the DH needed to increase the pace of investment in general practice, and warned against further ‘unfair denigration’ of hard stretched practices - such as Theresa May’s recent criticisms over the lack of uptake of extended hours working.’

Dr Vautrey said the fundamental facts were that ’too few medical graduates are choosing a career as a GP and many experienced GPs are opting to leave the NHS altogether.’

The health secretary’s 5,000 new GPs target has, in itself, been the subject of controversy. It was downgraded to 5,000 ’doctors in general practice’ - a change which allowed the Government to count GP trainees towards their target, despite them being supernumerary for workforce purposes.

Mr Hunt was also forced to admit that that there would be ‘flexibility’ in the target because some areas were particularly hard to recruit to.

A Department of Health spokesperson said:These statistics are four months old, and do not take into account the impact of all the actions we have recently taken to achieve our goal of 5000 more doctors in general practice by 2020, such as cutting red tape, paying some of GPs’ high insurance costs, increasing resources by £2.4 billion, as well as innovative new schemes to retain more GPs. Our latest figures show that we have more GPs in training now than ever before.’

 

How GP numbers have gone down over the past year

Total number of GPs in England

 September 2015- final including estimatesSeptember 2016 - including estimatesTotal change
Total      
All Practitioners (full time equivalent) 34,592 34,495 -96

Numbers of GPs leaving and joining the NHS in England

 October 2015 - March 2016April 2016 - September 2016Total

Joiners

     

All General Practitioners

1,355

2,817

4,172

GP Providers

218

420

 

Salaried/Other GPs

692

1,191

 

GP Registrars

438

1,201

 

GP Retainers

7

6

 

Leavers

     

All General Practitioners

1,767

2,442

4,209

GP Providers

546

668

 

Salaried/Other GPs

653

718

 

GP Registrars

565

1,046

 

GP Retainers

4

10

 

Source: NHS Digital, General and Personal Medical Services, England September 2015 - September 2016, Provisional Experimental statistics. Please note: the table on the number of GPs leaving and joining the NHS in England excludes locums, and counts those moving between practices as both a joiner and a leaver, so numbers don’t match up completely to the difference in GPs in the system.

Readers' comments (29)

  • Let's see how this is spun...... a few heads being scratched I suspect.

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  • The problem is that Hunt is "living in a parallel universe".
    The Tories love market forces...well this is Market forces in action and if you don't like it then hard bloody luck.
    Look, the job is shit, plain and simple...bullying GPs, lying to the public, smear stories and other wizardry won't hide the truth any longer.

    Hunt...either you improve the conditions or you can stick the job where the sun don't shine, mate.

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  • I'm 45, 21 years experience in medicine, 17 as a FTE GP. I'm looking to retrain as something else - something I will enjoy doing - and drop down to half time in GP. I reckon 2 days a week is about all I can manage. This job is a blight on my life. How many like me?

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  • I think mr Hunt is probably delighted
    Then he can collapse the NHS and pass to virgin health etc

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  • Yes but virgin health will still need GPs to work for them. They will only get them by importing or paying a lot more with better terms and conditions. This clearly won't happen

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  • Dear Fed Up @ 12.24,
    Plenty of GPs just like you - I was. (FT Partner, stressed+++, snappy, never saw family etc). Used to dream of "doing something else" but it took being sued and going through a GMC disciplinary investigation to make me take the leap. Now I work PT on my terms, have claimed my (hard-earned) pension early and am re-training to develop a parallel medical career and business in the private sector (aviation). Would never go back to FT GP Partner role - I just couldn't cope and it was very difficult to admit that. Now I enjoy my life and medicine. Plan your exit and go for it. Good luck!

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  • Ha! Chickens......roost.....coming......heee heee

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  • The job is shit- why do it?
    The job is a blight on my life - why do it?
    These two statements say it all and nobody is listening. As a patient I want to be treated by a doctor that actually wants to come to work.
    If there are registered doctors prepared to publicly state that they effectively hate what they are doing the NHS is in much deeper trouble than any of us know.
    I resigned from my practice 3 years ago, it was the best move ever.
    I still work in the NHS but I do a job I want to do and hours that are fixed. For me more hours = more pay but I only work these additional hours if I want to not because I am forced to. It's time to call a halt to the bullying and denigration, resign and see what happens - people will always need a doctor it just might not be a NHS doctor.

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  • yes they must be regretting this "5000 by 2020" target and need to find some scheme to get people to forget about it.

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  • Dear Fed Up @12.24

    42 years old, 20 years in medicine and a GP partner until November last year. Now work three days a week as a salaried GP. For the first time in a few years I sleep well, I look forward to coming in to work, and I enjoy being a family doctor again. In the months before I quit I was seriously considering leaving the medical profession entirely - glad I didn't, it turns out that fixing broken people is just as rewarding as it ever was, but I have to say that all the money in the world would not persuade me to return to the crushing pressures of partnership.

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  • Dear fed up @1224. I was burning out in my full time partner role. I was snappy, tearful and always worried about a gmc letter. I felt I was missing out on family life. I was sued once already. I took the plunge and emigrated to Canada last year, i am 39 and had been a partner for 9 years. Now I work a 40 hour week with a daily lunch break and no home visits and I'm making about double what i did in the UK. You need to check your options

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  • Very sad but very true. I went at 41 and continue to be very glad I don't have to do FT GP at the moment. I've even had to stop appraising - because I just can't dissimulate well enough to be positive about UK GP.
    What a very great shame. Not so long ago we couldn't MAKE GPs retire. Now we can't make them carry on.
    Meanwhile, The Times front page article today talks about how GPs all earn over £100k. The implication being - why are we moaning and threatening to start charging?

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  • Rogue1

    Increasing the training numbers wont work. The repeated message coming through is roughly half of the new docs are getting the certificate to emigrate! And those that are left are reducing their hours, as they are fed-up with the BS. It would be interesting to see the number of WTE docs!

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  • Monday 20 home visits (we have one GP doing all the visits for our 11,000 patients). All old and frail, 5 were dying. Drove 46 miles. Had a wee at one patients house, another gave me a cup of tea, visited until 19:00 then worked until midnight on the paperwork. Talked to a psychologist who was appalled and agreed that conditions more like a battlefield than a job. Every day like this at the moment. The 5000 aren't coming. Not so easy to just give up and f/o to Canada: mortgage kids etc and plagued by sense of duty.

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  • Copernicus, where is your sense of duty to your family - even to yourself! Read your post again and think about what you have written. It reads like the commander of the rearguard left with the flag as the enemy surrounds his dugout! Sell up! Move abroad and get to play with your kids!

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  • Will need 5001
    had enough of the shite

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  • Retired from partnership at 51 - decided to go after unfounded gmc complaint which 6 months later decided I had no case to answer . The complainant even told them how impressed she was with my care and it wasn't me she was complaining about! You couldn't make it up !!
    Instead of feeling happy I just felt anger at how I had been treated for 6 months by the GMC witch hunters.
    How many more hardworking GP s are going to be pushed out until the government wakes up.

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  • Oh dear, Mr Hunt. Need some alternative facts, methinks.

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  • Council of Despair

    this is an easy one to spin ...

    figures show that over 4172 GPs joined the NHS workforce in 2016. The government target is for 5000 extra GPs to join the workforce by 2020. In another survey - over 50% of GPs don't regret being GPs !. Theresa May has said that 'most' GPs are doing a great job but ...

    u get the idea.

    funny how the news re: NI GPs is totally buried in the rest of the media.

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  • I've been a GP for 2.5 years and I'm dropping my sessions from 8 to 6. I've tried to work full time but it was too
    much and all the extra money was just taken off me. I see no future in general practice. What an almighty disappointment

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  • Spuds

    It won't be spun, it will be ignored by politicians and media alike.

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  • We all went into this profession because we thought life as a doctor/GP would be comfortable, after all you gave half your life studying. To be fair, it has been but for last 10 years or so. GPs like me have had happy good old times in practice but I could not survive FT now. I work 2 days catch up on third, free rest of the days, but I am lucky to take early retirement. I have two sons, both started in medicine, one gave after F2, AE shifts did it for him. Now he runs a successful private company. Other is doing GP training but planning to join his brother after qualifying. Same AE 12 hrs shifts with relentless work has broken his resolve. Shame that we are loosing new generation of British qualified doctors. Prediction for next few years, I think we will all be looking at private health care. Current NHS is like asking Tesco to open its store and say it is all free! Cannot manage free healthcare. Hunt et al is grinning secretly as this is what his govt wants and they will get it by 2020 not another 5000 GPs!

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  • I'll be 65 in a few weeks time and retiring just afterwards having done 33 years as a single-handed GP in a remote practice and now I feel @done'. So why do I feel so guilty about leaving the sinking ship HMS NHS?
    As a parting question "who will be there to care for my medical needs in old age assuming I get to an old age?"

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  • Ah, that will be the private GP, make sure you can cover the insurance fee. However someone like me might take pity and offer you free treatment (as being a colleague in the profession).

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  • Full time NHS Partnership role becoming increasingly unattractive and hard to recruit,retain and now, with £1million Pension "cap" before 55%tax, increasing early retirement is a Perfect Workforce Storm! Serious effort needed from Central Government to reverse these negative factors or NHS will wither with subsequent Electorial consequences.Theresa May should accept Simon Steven's advice and "encourage"Primary Care funding as well as Social Care Provision. Workforce improvement may take many years to occur.

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  • I did the very same as most of these posts 12 months ago. Drop from full time to half time and fill the gaps with alternatives eg ooh locum. Easy to pick up work, get paid for what i do, rather than flogging ones self 12 hours a day plus. Easily make up the financial gap that half time drawings cause, with half the hours. Actually see my children now. For any partners thinking of doing this, put yourself and family first, not your dependent patients who will find an alternative. I,ve remajned a partner, work is much more variable and i enjoy work for first time in 8 years.

    FULL TIME GP IS NOT SUSTAINABLE IN LONG RUN 4 to 6 clinical sessions tops. Life is too short.

    oh and get the house in your wifes name if you can. If gp practice then pops, then at least family home is safe.

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  • Having resigned partnership 51 ,i am not sure what to do, as there dont seem to be any decent jobs in the NHS. As far as I can make out and 1 NHS hour =1.45'real ' hours . You are paid for 1 session( 4.1 hours ) but will be expected to work around 7.

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  • General practice is the best job in the country but latterly perhaps for me the worst
    10 more 13.5 hour days to go before leaving after 2 horrendous years including bullying by salaried GPs, untruthful whistle blowing, bullying by the CCG and NHS England and the CQC
    I am just hanging on physically and mentally until 31/3 but feel betrayed by one erstwhile colleague and the above organizations
    Many years in one practice has been rewarded thus
    Let market forces roll
    Life is too short

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  • I do agree life is too short
    We need to we sure we are financially properly paid before and after tax
    This is probably the only thing the government and Mr Hunt can grasp
    Whilst doctors accept pay reduction, pension caps, abuse and micro management why do they need to value us until we leave in droves and work as locums
    Why not all be locums then we can charge market force fees

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