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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)

  • 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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