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Record rise in GPs but crisis is 'long way' from over

GP recruitment is showing the first signs of recovery after Government figures revealed the biggest rise in a decade.

Department of Health statistics released last week showed the number of whole-time equivalent GPs in England rose by 344 last year.

The figure compares with paltry rises of 18 in 2000 and 2001 and 29 in 2001.

But despite the increase, the Government is still set to fall well short of its NHS Plan target to recruit 2,000 new GPs by the end of this month.

GPC joint-deputy chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said there was 'a long way to go' before the recruitment crisis was over.

'This sort of growth has to be sustained year on year if we are going to get more GPs,' he said. 'In the overall scheme of things it's still not a lot ­ it's 300 extra in a year when the Government's target was 2,000 over four years.'

The BMA and RCGP have said 10,000 new GPs are needed to meet demand.

Dr Meldrum also warned that a fall in the number of GPs leaving the profession from 1,445 to 1,311 last year could be a 'blip' and more doctors could quit because of 'change fatigue'.

He said: 'I have always been cautious that there may be a blip. No matter how good the contract was, a change often does result in people leaving the profession and there are people who can't be bothered with it.'

The Department of Health's annual workforce survey show-ed the total number of whole-time equivalent GPs rose from 25,967 in 2002 to 26,311 in 2003.

GP registrar numbers increased by 12.9 per cent from 1,980 in 2002 to 2,235 in 2003. The census also showed a huge increase in the number of female registrars and an increased trend towards part-time working among both men and women.

Dr Meldrum said the rise in part-time working meant between 1.5 and 1.75 GP registrars were needed to replace each retiring doctor

Health Secretary John Reid hailed the figures as a 'record' increase but admitted the Government 'had a lot more to do'.

Changes in the GP workforce

Since last year

 · Whole-time equivalent GPs (unrestricted principals and

equivalents) up by 344 to 26,311

 · Total number of unrestricted principals and equivalents up by

537 to 28,568

 · GP registrars up by 12.9 per cent to 2,235

 · Total number of GPs joining or returning to the NHS up

215 to 1,848

 · GPs leaving the NHS down from 1,445 to 1,311

Since 1993

 · Number of women GPs up from 27 per cent to 36 per cent

 · Number of women GP registrars up by 62 per cent

 · Percentage of women GPs working full-time down from

73.3 to 53.1 per cent

 · GPs in partnerships of six or more up from 25 to 37 per cent

 · Singlehanders down from 11 per cent to 9 per cent

By Nerys Hairon

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