There are more female than male GPs in England for the first time, while the number of GPs overall has declined, official data has shown.
The number of female GPs totalled 20,435 compared with 19,801 male counterparts according to the September NHS workforce census, after female numbers rose 3% in the year and male numbers declined by the same percentage. Over the last decade, numbers of female GPs have grown by more than 50%.
But while the number of female GPs rose, the overall number of GPs actually decreased between the 2012 and 2013 audits, the Health and Social Care Information Centre revealed.
The statistics reveal a sea change in the profession, which has traditionally been male-dominated, and there had been criticism that women are still not well represented at the top of the profession, although there has since been two female members added to the GPC negotiating team.
The figures follow an attack on female GPs last year by a Conservative MP who said that women doctors were a ‘tremendous burden’ on the NHS.
The HSCIC report said: ‘There are 20,435 females within the GP workforce (headcount), an increase of 2.9 per cent (570) since 2012. This is the first year female GP numbers have been greater than their male counterparts. Male headcount GPs number 19,801, a decrease of 2.9 per cent (599) since 2012.’
However, there was worrying news in overall decrease in the number of GPs for the first time.
The report said: ‘There are 40,236 headcount General Practitioners, a decrease of 29 (0.1%) since 2012 and a rise of 6,672 (19.9%) since 2003 (an average annual increase of 1.8%).’
But this came at the same time as the number of full-time equivalents increased.
The report added: ‘This represents 36,294 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) GPs, an increase of 423 (1.2%) since 2012 and an increase of 6,209 (20.6%) since 2003 (an average annual increase of 1.9%).’
The statistics further showed a trend towards fewer, larger GP practices in England, as the total number of practices decreased by 126 while average patients per practice rose to 7,034.
The report said: ‘In 2013 there were 7,962 general practices in England, a decrease of 126 (1.6%) on last year. The number of patients per practice has grown steadily in the last decade rising from 5,968 to 7,034 between 2003 and 2013, reflecting the move towards larger practices. Average practice list size varies between 5,935 in Merseyside Area Team and 8,960 in Hertfordshire and the South Midlands Area Team.’
Professor Clare Gerada, former chair of the RCGP and now an adviser to NHS England in London, said she was ‘delighted’ so many women were practicing as GPs.
She said: ‘It is a wonderful profession, and women make great GPs and leaders. I have no worries about the gender balance so long as it is the right people doing the job. What we need to focus on is lobbying for general practice to be adequately funded otherwise we will all be in trouble. As for the debate regarding female GPs working part time, general practice is a very tough profession and I think you get more out of two part-time female – or male – GPs, than any full-time GP, male or female.’
Dr Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP for Totnes in Devon, House of Commons health committee member and a former GP, said: ‘Women have long played an essential role in primary care. I hope that NHS England will recognise that we must not lose their skills if they need to take time away for caring responsibilities. I would like to see more support for GP returner schemes to help them rejoin the workforce.’
Number of GPs as of September 2013
|All practitioners||All practitioners (excluding registrars & retainers)||GP provider||GP other (excluding registrars and retainers)|