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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
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



All General Practitioners




GP Providers




Salaried/Other GPs




GP Registrars




GP Retainers






All General Practitioners




GP Providers




Salaried/Other GPs




GP Registrars




GP Retainers




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)

  • 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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