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Full-time GP numbers down by over 500 in just three months

some significant harm is avoidable

The GP workforce situation has worsened further, as full-time equivalent GP numbers have dropped by 523 since March.

Provisional GP workforce data for June 2018 showed there were 33,163 FTE GPs in England, down from a final figure of 33,686 for March.

Also between March and June, total headcount numbers declined by 488, from 41,848 to 41,360.

The new NHS Digital data comes as Pulse reported in May that the NHS has lost 1,000 GPs since former health secretary Jeremy Hunt set out his target to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs between 2015 and 2020.

However, when excluding registrars, retainers and locums, the FTE GP workforce figure was just 27,773 according to the finalised figures for March.

Of these, nearly a quarter (23%) were over 55, while the female to male ratio stood at 53.9% to 45.9%.

According to the NHS Digital report, 1,167 GPs excluding locums left a GP practice between January and March this year, while just 939 joined (228 fewer). The FTE figures were 864 leaving and 589 joining (275 fewer).

The report revealed better news for the general practice nurse workforce. Between January and March, 703 nurses (475 FTE) joined GP practices, while 678 (434 FTE) left.

FTE general practice nurse numbers for March (final) stood at 15,889 and had increased to 15,925 according to the June provisional data.

However, despite this, the overall number of direct patient care staff declined in the time period – from 12,013 FTE staff in March to 11,980 FTE staff in June.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The continued fall in the number of GPs is causing major problems around the country as practices find it harder and harder to meet the growing needs of their patients.

‘It leaves patients waiting too long for appointments and GPs and their practice team members under increasing stress as they do their best to cope. The new secretary of state for health and social care in England made workforce his top priority, and these figures show that its work to recruit and retain GPs that must be addressed urgently.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Today’s figures will be demoralising and distressing for GPs and our teams across the country who are striving to deliver care to over a million patients a day, but without the resources or workforce to do so in a way that is safe for patients, or for themselves.

‘Despite great efforts to recruit more doctors to general practice – and we do have more GPs in training than ever before – something clearly is not working, and this must be addressed.’

She said this comes as GPs are ‘routinely working 12-hour days in clinic, making upwards of 60 patient contacts a day, and dealing with huge amounts of administrative work’.

‘Demand is escalating exponentially, both in volume and complexity, and many practices are already struggling to fill vacancies – it is not safe, and it is causing GPs to burn out, driving them out of the profession, and it means our patients are having to wait longer and longer for appointments,’ she added. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We recognise the invaluable contribution of GPs and we are determined to build a strong workforce – that’s why we are investing an extra £2.4bn a year into general practice by 2021, with record number of doctors in training and NHS England planning to recruit an extra 2,000 overseas doctors.’

GP numbers in decline

  June 2017 March 2018 (final) June 2018 (provisional) Annual percentage change
All GPs, headcount 41,564 41,848 41,360 -0.5  
All GPs, FTE 33,560 33,686 33,163 -1.2  
GPs excluding registrars, retainers and locums, headcount 34,191 34,435 34,118 -0.2  
GPs excluding registrars, retainers and locums, FTE 27,858 27,773 27,396 -1.7  

Source: NHS Digital