This site is intended for health professionals only

Health secretary claims GP numbers are ‘stable’

Health secretary claims GP numbers are ‘stable’

New health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey has confounded GPs by claiming their numbers have been ‘stable’ since the last general election.

Interviewed yesterday morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, Dr Coffey was defending her new ‘expectation’ that GP practices offer non-urgent appointments to patients within two weeks.

During the interview, presenter Nick Robinson questioned whether the target was ‘building up expectations’ on GPs in the midst of a workforce crisis.

The health secretary responded that she was ‘happy to stand up and be the champion for patients’ but Mr Robinson pointed out that ‘GPs are leaving the service and choosing to work part-time because they find it too stressful’, asking her whether ‘the number of GPs [has] gone up or down since the last election’.

Dr Coffey responded: ‘I think the numbers are pretty stable.’

She went on to reiterate the comments despite Mr Robinson pointing to a recent House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee report that said 717 full-time equivalent GPs were lost in England between March 2019 and March 2022.

Dr Coffey said: ‘Well, I think the numbers have been pretty stable but, of course, we want to bring more people into general practice. Nevertheless, we’ll be working to try and free up appointments that today GPs are the only people who can make prescriptions for certain kinds of drugs, and we’ll continue to develop that and of course we’re still working on the broader workforce plan.

‘But I think it’s important coming in as a new health secretary to be very clear on my expectations and be the champion for patients, focusing on primary care in particular, but also our ABCD, because I’m also conscious that some of the services on which people rely the most are currently under, I expect, a great stress, and that’s why I’ll be setting out in more detail to Parliament some of the activities we’ll be undertaking.’

Dr Coffey set out her ‘plan for patients’ this week, which will see GP appointment waiting times published at practice level from November; pharmacies taking on contraception prescribing and management; new roles added to the ARRS; and tweaks to GP pension rules to avoid ‘unnecessary’ taxes.

It also focused on ambulances, backlogs and social care and dentists (‘ABCD’).

The most recent GP workforce data also published by NHS Digital last month showed that the number of fully-qualified full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs continues to fall.

There were 27,507 fully-qualified FTE GPs in July, down from 27,558 the previous month and 27,750 in July last year.

Former health secretary Sajid Javid had admitted the Government will fail to fulfil its election pledge to recruit 6,000 additional full-time equivalent GPs by 2025.

Highlighting the confusing comments on Twitter, the BMA’s GP Committee praised the BBC presenter for holding the health secretary to account.

A ‘staggering’ BMA survey in May found that one in eight GP trainees will choose not to become GPs in future.

Meanwhile, fewer than a third of GP trainees (31%) in England see themselves working full-time in general practice a year after qualifying, according to a new study by The King’s Fund published last week.

Out of those not planning to work full-time, 78% said the ‘intensity of the working day’ was the reason they did not want to do more sessions.

Amid workforce shortages, GP locum bookings doubled from September 2021 to September 2022, according to the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP).



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Sam Macphie 23 September, 2022 5:52 pm

Is T Coffey a proper Dr? No; and confounding GPs in this way. A bit like chancellor ‘Quasi-chancellor’ reducing 45% rate to 40% for the very well-off earning 150k pa or more, and removing ceilings on bankers’ bonuses, but doing not so much unfortunately for police, teachers, nurses and pensioners and the weak and disabled. This is perhaps some kind of quasi-government: will it last 2 years (until the next election) or will it even last 2 weeks?

Turn out The Lights 23 September, 2022 6:07 pm

Even if the number were stable(which they are not) the number of patient needing care rises as the population ages and the politicians collude in increasing demands.The work force is burnt out tired and trapped.You have to be carful when you back people into a corner.

Darren Tymens 23 September, 2022 6:15 pm

It is very difficult to engage with the cold hard truths of reality; far easier to live in a fantasy world, especially now when truth doesn’t seem to matter in politics anymore.

David Church 23 September, 2022 7:30 pm

Well, my number is still the same as it was before the election before last, so perhaps I am the stable one!
But what is she on about ‘non-urgent’ appointments within 2 weeks?
We are in the middle of a Pandemic, caused by her Government, exacerbated by her Government, and encouraged to grow by her Government, and in the middle of a Pandemic, it is not appropriate for patients to risk going to see the GP at all for anything but an Urgent appointment. We should not be seeing anyone for anything that is non-urgent at all. There is not the manpower to do this on top of the urgent work, and it brings too high a risk of Covid-induced sickness and disability for staff and patients, so is highly contra-indicated.
About time we had a Health Secretary who actually knew something about health and the NHS.
Perhaps Andrew or Edward Mountbatten-Windsor could lead on it better?

Keith M Laycock 23 September, 2022 8:11 pm

It seems to me that Coffey has adopted the use of the Dr title since being appointed to the ‘Health Ministry’ – in her case, the Dr is for Ph.D … although it’s a legitimate use of the title for a Ph.D., in this case, it would seem a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, many or the majority, will assume it means she’s a qualified physician.

As for the GP number claims, she should be called by the BMA etc and Headlined as starting her new position in a state of factual ignorance.

Dr N 23 September, 2022 10:11 pm

Stupid people are stupid and say stupid

Wendy Kitching 23 September, 2022 10:33 pm

So she is going to be the champion for patients. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of GPs have always seen themselves as patient advocates . We are there for the patients, we liaise with secondary care for the patient, and with community services and social care for the patient. It’s all we do all day and everyday . I feel insulted that she is implying she has to do it because we aren’t doing it . Completely out of touch .

David Banner 24 September, 2022 12:16 am

Stable?? After the horses have bolted……..

Long Gone 24 September, 2022 9:07 am

“Your customers will never be any happier than your employees.” —John DiJulius, The Customer Service Revolution.
So it may be headline grabbing to “put patients first” but that implies putting GPs welfare last. Doesn’t really work does it? “Put your oxygen mask on first, before trying to help others”.

Saying that GP numbers are stable is swivel-eyed nonsense. The best you could say is the ship is sinking at a constant rate. But even then, the trajectory is probably accelerating downward to be honest.

Kevlar Cardie 24 September, 2022 12:34 pm

“Now that we’ve cut your legs off I am delighted to announce that 100 % of your limbs are arms”.

Samir Shah 24 September, 2022 12:42 pm

If a building has been demolished and all that’s left is rubble, the remaining debris is ‘stable’.
Typical political nonsense. ‘Put patients first’….more like ‘Throw patients under a bus’. But then again, what does she care.

Andrew F 24 September, 2022 6:20 pm

The new post-truth, post-integrity world.

Adam Crowther 24 September, 2022 7:01 pm

Think the health secretary might be lost in a parallel universe. Let’s hope she returns safe and sound soon 😳

Patrufini Duffy 24 September, 2022 10:07 pm

The institutes will fall. Stable that.

Turn out The Lights 24 September, 2022 11:10 pm

Remember the acronym TAPS.As Forest would say stupid is as stupid does, suits this 12 year government doesn’t it.Look bak over the last 12 years what ever they have touched has turned brown and smelly the revers midas touch.Can this part continue to tell the elllectorate they are the sensible choice, while they still believe them and keep voting for them as I said TAPS.

Paul Attwood 26 September, 2022 1:25 pm

And the number of Tractors being produced in Ukraine remain as normal. Kharkiv if you must ask. 🙂
TAPS as Totl says.

James Weems 26 September, 2022 10:48 pm

Nothing like a Tory to ignore the cold hard facts

Turn out The Lights 27 September, 2022 7:33 am

Stable as the pound eh!Stable as inflation eh!Stable as the zombie government eh Dr Coffey.Will Liz last as long a Boris before a middle aged white bloke or two get out their knives or the electorate kicks them out mmm.

John Evans 27 September, 2022 8:00 am

Very little chance of her being in the job long enough to be found out as a liar or a failure.

Supposedly a wild gamble on “growth”. However, that growth would only ever have been virtual. 5% reduction in inflation with a 5% loss of currency value. The intent was to lower debt as a proportion of a falsely ‘increased’ GDP with the bonus that inflation linked costs such as benefits/pensions and Public sector pay increases are further reduced.
Starving the poor so that the fat can gorge – with the scraps trickling down.

We will get the other bunch of liars in 2 years.

Surprisingly shameful even for politicians.

Truth Finder 28 September, 2022 9:09 am

Stable? If so why has no one responded to my job advert over the last 2 years?

Paul Hartley 3 October, 2022 12:04 pm

Is it just me being cynical, but are all the doctors who were put onto the emergency covid register included in the total of registered doctors, thus conveniently inflating the government figures