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Number of GPs continues to decline as 200 leave in three months

The GP workforce in England is continuing to decline, with 219 full-time equivalent GPs lost to the profession since September.

Quarterly data released today by NHS Digital show that although the total number of GPs increased by 328 in the last three months of 2017, when translated into FTE numbers there was a significant decline.

In the 12 months to 31 December 2017, the total number of GPs grew by 228 but fell by 254 full-time equivalent doctors, according to the provisional data.

However, this was a huge improvement on provisional data released in November, that had suggested FTE GP numbers fell by 1,200 in the 12 months to September 2017. NHS Digital has since revised this number to a decline of 404 FTE GPs.

NHS Digital said this was due to how GP registrars are included in provisional statistics released quarterly.

A spokesperson for NHS Digital said the statistics for registrars are contained in the electronic staff record, rather than being provided by practices directly, due to the way they are paid.

However, data from this record are not available until eight weeks after the statistics are compiled by NHS Digital.

But the figures continue to indicate that the Government is way behind on its five-year target to increase GP numbers by 5,000 by 2020.

In the time period from September 2015 to December 2017, the total number of GPs decreased by 60 – or 720 FTE.

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.

It also comes as NHS England missed a target to recruit 600 GPs from overseas by April this year, although NHS England has since claimed it never set this target. In all, NHS England is looking to recruit 3,000 GPs from overseas in a bid to help reach the 5,000 target.

The BMA has warned the Government that continued sub-inflation uplifts to GP pay is going to further exacerbate GP workforce shortages. It has 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 GP workforce numbers were 'increasingly worrying'.

He told Pulse: 'Despite the best attempts to increase the numbers by 5,000 we are going backwards not forwards and that impacts on patient care. That impacts on the viability of practices. It means it's so much more difficult to recruit GPs when an older GP retires and it really does need to be tackled.'

He added: 'NHS England needs to make a demonstrable increase in the funding elements of general practice. They need to resolve some of the issues that are barriers to doctors choosing general practice, whether that be the indemnity arrangement or the risks around premises, or the workload.

'We need to do much more to talk up general practice to attract GPs and to retain GPs.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'For some, the pressure has become too much and it’s genuinely awful that some GPs are prematurely leaving a profession, which, when properly resourced and funded, can be so rewarding and fulfilling.

'But ultimately, it’s our patients who suffer when we lose GPs and we need to make sure that, as well as retaining existing and experienced doctors, measures are taken to attract new GPs to the profession for the future.'

GP workforce in numbers

 RoleSeptember 2015March 2016September 2016December 2016March 2017June 2017
September 2017December 2017 - provisional
All practitioners 34,592 34,914 34,495 34,126 33,921 33,560 34,091 33,872
GP providers 21,937 21,597 21,163 20,835 20,702 20,499 20,234 20,128
Salaried/other GPs 7,292 7,436 7,295 7,300 7,390 7,359 7,603 7,802
GP registrars 4,729 5,114 5,273 5,259 4,799 4,647 5,135 4,997
GP retainers 67 78 72 69 81 84 90 108
GP locums 567 690 692 663 949 970 1,029 836

Source: NHS Digital

Readers' comments (29)

  • Wait! What happened to those colouring pens & drawing pads from the RCGP? I think we all need to get those back out again.

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  • I cannot understand the blindness of “GP leaders”, especially the RCGP. You insult me by appraisal and revalidation and that’s one thing which will make me leave. It’s pretty obvious but seems to be the elephant in the room. I know many doctors my age (58) quote appraisal and revalidation as a major factor in their leaving. I’m certainly not going to be revalidated again so I’m going 3 years maximum, that’s if I can cope that long.

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  • haluk salih Christopher Heath • 24 minutes ago
    It is absolutely disgusting how our representatives do bugger all and completely ignore what state we are in. Token gestures here and there yes, but at the end of the day slaves to their careers and the government.
    The bombardment of additional unpaid work each week is the reason for the decline as well as the unnecessary excessive surveillance brought in by the Government. Every single new Nice guideline, every single new drug alert or some new fancy local policy serving the pockets and egos of others means a huge amount of work created either undoing what you have done or implementing a new regime for care and recalling them all back in again to get back in line. This goes on weekly if not daily. What if we ignore the overwhelming information and indeed find we are so stressed by our workload and lack of staff that we forget to implement any of these changes??we get done for manslaughter. Wonderful life, what the hell am I still in this career for? Just be a locum, pop in, send them for blood tests or a 2ww go cover yourself from blame then leave the mess to the few burnt out remaining partners to follow up. Take your money and go home safely knowing you have absolutely no responsibility for what happens thereafter, you have after all implemented the safety strategy. Sounds like a better option to me because I cannot see any of you lot standing up and being counted in this debate.

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  • “ go and be a locum” if only a half of all the gps leaving age 57 ( the average round here) did that it would be a huge help, and perhaps far better than trying to get docs in from very different gp cultures.

    Keeping experienced gp’s in the workforce by minimising irritations such as appraisal and stupid policy and IT changes, ie FGM policy 😱etc

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  • sadly the transformation and unsustainability "plan" is set to fail, you can keep on reducing referrals to near zero and use the cheapest medicines and then the gains stop.the population is getting older and more complex and we are being asked to look at patients with more complexity, see more and keep patients at home and take more risks.the governments next stage is to make the gps and ccgs fully accountable for the money-a £5 to cover all the patients and you pay yourself from this.just like a train franchise.plus they want us to cover nights and weekends in large gp practices.meanwhile all the risk is taken by the doctor and the medical defence the doctor has, not by the system.the nhs will soon be detrimental to your career and you wonder why so many people try to do admin jobs for ccg or bma or rcgp. when there are so few gps or gp assistants or nurse practitioners they will have to use push doctor to fill in areas of loss.if I was a young gp I would look abroad or part-time only.it is great to treat lovely people, but its not great to make more mistakes and fail these people.

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  • New SNP tax changes North of the border is certainly going to help the rural and Scottish GP recruitment crisis!
    Along with the new Scottish contract. 10 years of the SNP.
    No further comment

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  • The NHS was never disimilar to an old car. Give it an annual MOT and service. A little bit of rust? No problem. Leave it in a barn then it will rust and corrode to the point of no return. GPs were never part of the solution either. More specialists to the denigration of GPs when they needed more generalists. Lets see what happens from now on. There are far too many specialists the NHS and not enough generalists. That is the problem.

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  • Sad reality is even if conditions worsen a lot more like 3x raise in defence fees, GMC, CQC Fees....a significant proportion will still remain to serve the NHS.

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  • Gp trainees who have done akt, appraisals and 3 years of training along with gp exams have to clear a bullshit acting Csa exam. Where you have no idea why you failed as there is no video evidence. And the leaders talk about lack of GP. Don’t the leadership see the Csa exam is an utter farce ? Or are they blind ?

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