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Independents' Day

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)

  • 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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