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NHS has lost 1,000 GPs since Jeremy Hunt set workforce target

The GP workforce in England is continuing to decline, as official statistics reveal that 316 full-time equivalent GPs have left the profession in the last three months.

The figures released by NHS Digital today also reveal that the number of FTE GPs in the workforce has decreased more than 1,000 since September 2015 - when health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced he would increase the number of FTE GPs in England by 5,000.

NHS England is recruiting from overseas in a bid to boost GP numbers, but Pulse revealed last month that they had only managed to recruit 85 by April - despite originally touting the figure of 600.

The latest statistics show that in the last three months, the workforce has fallen from 33,890 FTE GPs in December 2017 to 33,574 as of 31 March 2018.

Meanwhile, the workforce is 1,018 GPs worse off than it was in September 2015.

This is despite the success of NHS England's induction and refresher scheme, which has tempted 546 GPs back into the workforce since its launch in 2015.

The news comes as a Pulse investigation, published earlier this month, showed a steep rise in the number of GPs claiming their pension early. Since 2013, almost 3,000 GPs have claimed their pension before the age of 60.

The BMA has previously warned the Government that continued sub-inflation uplifts to GP pay is going to further exacerbate GP workforce shortages, having asked the independent review body on doctor's pay to recommend a 2% uplift for 2018/19.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA's GP Committee, said the latest workforce statistics are 'extremely concerning'.

He said: 'It’s more than two and a half years since the health secretary promised to recruit 5,000 more GPs before 2020, and these figures are a damning progress report. With less than two years until this target date, the trend is clearly going the other way and it's a sign that a step change in action needs to be taken.

'As GPs struggle with rising demand, increasing workloads and burdensome admin, and are expected to do so with insufficient resources, it’s no surprise that talented doctors are leaving the profession and although the number of GP training places have increased, this is not enough to address the dire recruitment and retention crisis.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'These figures are yet another hammer blow for family doctors, for whom going the extra mile is now the norm, and for our patients. The stark truth is that we are losing GPs at an alarming rate at a time when we need thousands more to deliver the care our patients need, and keep our profession, and the wider NHS, sustainable.

'It is clear that substantial efforts to increase the GP workforce in England are falling short – and we need urgent action to address this. We have made great strides over the past couple of years encouraging more medical students and foundation doctors to choose general practice, but these efforts will be futile, if more GPs are leaving the profession than entering it.'

She said this comes as 'GP workload is escalating, both in volume and complexity, and the hardworking GPs we do have are burning out as we try to cope without the resources and support we need'.

 'Longer and longer days in clinic is what our members are telling us they face when they come to work in the morning, exacerbated by a mountain of bureaucracy and paperwork. This isn’t safe for GPs, our teams, or our patients, and if it isn’t tackled GPs will continue to leave the profession early, and new GPs will be put off from joining,' she added.

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the data marked 'yet another broken promise on NHS staffing from ministers'.

'It’s an embarrassing failure for the secretary of state that far from delivering the extra GPs primary care desperately need, there are now 1,000 fewer family doctors than in 2015.

'The truth is that the Tories have failed to bring forward a sustainable long term plan for the NHS. The consequence is the biggest financial squeeze in its 70-year history and a failure to recruit the frontline doctors and nurses we need to care for patients.'

A department of health and social care spokesperson said: 'We are committed to meeting our objective of recruiting an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020. This is an ambitious target and shows our commitment to growing a strong and sustainable general practice for the future.

'More than 3,000 GPs have entered training this year, 1,500 new medical school places are being made available by 2019 and NHS England plans to recruit an extra 2,000 overseas doctors in the next three years.'

GP workforce in numbers

RoleSeptember 2015March 2016September 2016December 2016March 2017June 2017 5September 2017December 2017March 2018 - provisional
All Practitioners 34,592 34,914 34,495 34,126 33,921 33,560 34,091 33,890 33,574
GP Providers 21,937 21,597 21,163 20,835 20,702 20,499 20,234 20,128 19,891
Salaried/Other GPs 7,292 7,436 7,295 7,300 7,390 7,359 7,603 7,802 7,882
GP Registrars 4,729 5,114 5,273 5,259 4,799 4,647 5,135 5,016 4,857
GP Retainers 67 78 72 69 81 84 90 108 119
GP Locums 567 690 692 663 949 970 1,029 836 825

Readers' comments (37)

  • Took Early Retirement

    How will he spin it?

    Actually, losing seniority payments was a big factor for many I think.

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  • I agree that seniority payment loss and pension reductions (G.Osborne!) will be deciding factors for full timers over 50! So obvious that I presumed it was a deliberate policy to reduce “awkward” experienced senior GPs to “soften” the remainder for a salary based employee workforce which is easily controlled!

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  • Bright people who have choices won’t be controlled

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  • AlanAlmond

    It’s become a stinking career with an increasingly toxic environment both from outside the profession and sadly lately from within it. Take a look at all the negative articles in PULSE over the years not just detailing attacks from the government and wider society but more and more attacks from special interest groups within the profession itself continually bashing their colleagues simply on the basis of their gender, age and ethnic status, something completely out of an individuals control. No wonder people are leaving in droves to be replaced by part timers (me included) and anyone and everyone naive enough they can tempt from outside the country. I used to be sick of the government but more and more I’m becoming sick of the entire profession which is slowly becoming something no one with self respect would want to be part of. If you’d like to tell me I’m bitter and wrong, please explain why so many are leaving. Many answers already detailed above, I’m just chipping in my twisted view point. Even if it’s crap, I’m feeling it. If I’m feeling it others are too, and that I’m afraid makes my point of view very really, whatever you might think of it. What’s being done about that? Nothing, month after month it just gets worse and worse. Angry is what I am and I suspect I’m not the only one. I’m off to brush up my response to a meaningless historical complaint which was scatter gun sprayed over every GP who’d every had the misfortune of meeting an unfortunate patient who’s story didn’t end well. I met them once and did absolutely nothing you wouldn’t also have done. Nobody is paying me to respond to this crap, but if don’t I won’t be able to continue to earn a living. It stinks, it’s general practice.

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  • We are not surprised.

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  • Try as they may, free will cannot be defeated and dictatorships always get toppled. Factory workers will conform cause its easy. Intellectual professionals find it easier to resist than to fit in badly designed moulds . Lions led donkeys become asses.

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  • @Peter Swinyard
    'Just as well we don't have a Labour govt...'
    I assume this is ironic humour!
    The pensions screw up mainly being a gift from a certain George Osborne, boy genius and former head Conservative towel folder.
    As for Jeremy, in terms of enacting Conservative policy in destroying the health service he truly has the Midas touch.

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  • Seniority loss, pension reductions/capping, increasing the minimal wage to hit partners, a lack lustre increase and increased regulation as well as workload, GDPR plus a charge of Gross Negligence Manslaughter as a poisonous icing for GPs.

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  • Their valiant efforts at best have just slowed the exodus down not reversed it.How long before the figures fall off the cliff.Do you feel luck punk as Clint Eastwood used to say.The elephant in the room needs to be shot the job is crap all our new compatriots cant cope with 9.5 sessions(cant blame them)and within the next decade probably sooner the 9.5 session foot soldiers on the front line will be no more,hastalavista to the NHS.

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  • It's worse than these figures suggest. Looking in more detail, since the target of '5000 extra doctors' was set in Sept 2015, the number of FTE 'GP Providers' (i.e. partners) has fallen by 2046, which is 9.3%. Nearly 1 in 10 GP partners have left since the recruitment initiative was launched. A slight increase in salaried GPs and Advanced Nurse Practitioners has not bridged the gap. This is why practices are failing, and / or handing back their contracts.

    For the reasons others have mentioned, being a GP, still less a partner, is no longer attractive. A fundamental rethink is required, and by that I don't mean a 3% pay settlement, or the GPFV nonsense. This means doing something real to address excessive demand / workload, overbearing regulation / bureaucracy, and serious legal jeopardy. Not faffing around with a few 'high impact changes'.

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