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The waiting game

Only 100 extra GPs added to workforce in six months

Only 100 extra GPs were added to the workforce in the last six months of 2015/16 in England, official figures have revealed, striking a blow to the Government’s aim of adding 5,000 extra GPs by 2020.

The new figures from NHS Digital reveal that the number of GPs excluding registrars, retainers and locums actually went down by eight from 30 September 2015 to 31 March 2016.

The report – which NHS Digital stresses is experimental – also reveals that the number of practices in England had decreased by 61 in those six months, while the proportion of the workforce that is female is increasing, with women now making up 52.1%.

This calls into further doubt the Government’s claim in 2014 that it will increase the numbers of GPs in the workforce by 5,000 by 2020.

GP leaders said that the figures were ‘disappointing’.

Pulse revealed earlier this year that the Government was falling short in its aims, and would need to increase the number of trainees entering the profession and decrease the speed of retirements to get anywhere the target.

The latest figures suggest that plans brought in by NHS England and Health Education England are not having the required impact.

The figures reveal:

  • There was an increase of 108 (0.3%) total headcount GPs from 30 September 2015 to 31 March 2016 – now standing at 41,985;
  • This represents 34,914 full-time equivalent GPs – an increase of 323 (0.9%) in that time period;
  • Excluding trainees, retainers and locums, there had been a decrease of eight GPs from September 2015 to March 2016 – although it did represent an increase of 65 FTEs (0.2%);
  • Around 52.1% of the GP workforce is now female – an increase from 51.9% in September 2015;
  • There were 7,613 practices in England in March 2016 – a decrease of 61 from September 2015.

These latest figures are the first to take into account NHS England and Health Education England’s attempts to increase the numbers of GPs practising through their 10-point plan.

They include measures to attract medical graduates into general practice, offer incentives to work in underdoctored areas and making it easier for GPs to re-enter general practice.

The measures seem to have arrested the slide in GP numbers, but they are still far below the required rate.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said: ’It’s disappointing that the numbers have only increased marginally, but it’s not surprising based on the experience many junior doctors and medical students would have had of general practice over the years.

’So it will take a while to turn the ship around and to actually genuinely increase numbers, but that’s all predicated on the Forward View actually being delivered and seeing actual change in practices.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ’We now have 323 extra full time equivalent GPs in our general practice workforce— and it’s good to see that the numbers are going in the right direction.

‘We know there is more work to be done- that’s why we have boosted GP funding by £2.4billion through the GP Forward View, and we will continue our drive to recruit and retain more GPs.’


Readers' comments (16)

  • can we clarify how many FTE qualified GP's have been added - not trainees?

    We should not be using deceptive descriptors.

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  • Pay them and they will come.

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  • 2 of my partners have gone half time, which I suspect is a nationwide event, so do these figures actually mean additional time GPs or are they just filling in the gaps

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  • Currently admission onto the performers list is adding a further barrier to recruitment to NHS England. With no reciprocal arrangement with the Welsh or Scottish performers list and it taking up to 3 months for new registrars or doctors to get on the performers list. Instead of facilitating recruitment the momentum seems to be creating further hurdles. How new GPs with appropriate training, documentations and jobs to start are being made to wait unemployed is a administrative moral scandal.

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  • It isn't possible to increase the number of FTE GP's by 5000 in the next 4 years. Everyone knows this. All that will happen in the next 4 years is that the government will move the goalposts, find innovative ways of counting people, reclassify allied professionals as pseudo-GP's etc, etc... If all else fails then blame GP's for retiring early, and point out that they msut be overpaid if they can afford to retire early (so let's reduce their remuneration and pension packages so they can't afford to retire).

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  • Government needs to take over the medical defence bill and will encorge GP to come back and work more

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  • Good Question Jo Smit.

    The answer is found here:

    Excluding GP registrars, retainers and locums the GP workforce has fallen by 8 individuals (head count) in six months.

    Excluding GP registrars, retainers and locums the Full Time Equivalent GP workforce has increased by 65 in six months.

    This gives us a poser. How is the headcount of these GPs falling and the full time equivalent increasing?

    To get the answer you need to download the GP level data and look at the number of GPs working more than one full time equivalent.

    A year ago NHS Digital changed the counting methodology and removed the cap on an individual GP being counted as more than 1.28 Full Time Equivalents. (In fact NHS Digital had been over-counting GPs for years because lots of data was returned as 1.0 FTE by default, so that individuals who had as many as five different roles were in effect being counted as five Full Time Equivalent GPs)

    The "cap" on GPs is now set at 2.0 FTE GPs.

    Looking at all GPs; including locums, retainers and registrars: there are over nine thousand GPs being counted as more than one full time equivalent. Most of these are only working a little over full time, but there are more than a thousand GPs (including GP registrars) who according to the data are working more than the previous maximum cap of 1.28 FTE. There are even a few tens of GPs working as two FTE GPs.

    I think you should ask colleagues and patients if it feels like there are more GPs or whether the GPs that we have are just working harder and being counted more than once.

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  • How do they define WTE? If you can be 2.0.

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  • Anonymous | Sessional/Locum GP27 Sep 2016 1:32pm

    Thank you

    Any chance the editors can look into this, as this is quite clearly more then deception on the part of DOH/NHSE

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  • Hello Colin,

    Full Time Equivalent (FTE) is not as fixed a definition as you might think.

    FTE in Scotland data is based on working 8 sessions per week. Under previous data collections for England, HSCIC used 9 sessions for one full time equivalent GP.

    NHS Digital use 37.5 hours per week as equivalent to full time in these published statistics.

    I don't know many GPs who do only 37.5 hours each week.

    This definition of full time has resulted in over recording of FTE GPs in my opinion. For example: large numbers of GP Trainees being recorded as 1.07 FTE, as the GP Registrar contract stipulates 40 hours.

    It doesn't seem a lot; but if you have, say, one hundred full time GP Registrars recorded as working 40 hours per week, then you gain an additional 7 registrars more than your headcount number.

    I would favour capping the number of FTEs at much less than 2.0. I thought 1.28 was more than reasonable.

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