The number of fully-trained full-time equivalent GPs working in the NHS in England has continued to decline, with a reduction of almost 700 between September 2017 and September 2018.
Official figures from NHS Digital show that there has been a decrease in the number of substantive FTE GPs – excluding registrars – from 28,874 last year, down to 28,278.
However, when registrars are included, the profession gained 41 full-time equivalent GPs in the past 12 months following a period of decline since 2015.
The workforce is still a long way off returning to its previous size. In September 2015 – when former health secretary Jeremy Hunt made his commitment to increase the workforce by 5,000 FTE GPs – there were over 1,500 more qualified GPs in the system.
The RCGP welcomed the rise in overall GP numbers, but warned a ‘sustained and accelerated’ increase is still required.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘It is good news to see GP numbers rising after such a steep decline in recent years.
‘The trajectory is on the up. We now need to see this momentum sustained and accelerated, so that we have the sufficient numbers of GPs we need in the future.’
Professor Stokes-Lampard noted there were more GPs in training than ever before but said ‘urgent initiatives’ were still required to retain GPs.
‘It takes a long time to train a GP and we still need to see urgent initiatives implemented to retain our existing GPs, and to address the unsustainable workload family doctors and our teams are facing on a daily basis,’ she said.
She noted the size of the GP workforce was still smaller than it was when NHS England’s GP Forward View was announced in 2016. The plan promised to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020.
Yesterday the Government announced an additional £3.5bn annual funding for primary and community care by 2023/24, as part of its forthcoming 10-year £20.5bn plan for the NHS.
Professor Stokes-Lampard added: ‘We have heard of £3.5bn extra a year for primary and community care as part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS – it is reassuring that the Government recognises that general practice service is central to the long-term sustainability of the NHS and patient care.
‘But the long-term plan must also be underpinned by a coherent, properly-funded workforce strategy, and address the adverse impact workforce pressures are having on our profession and the care we are able to deliver to our patients in the community.’
Earlier this year the health secretary revealed a record number of GP trainees had been recruited – for the first time meeting the annual target of 3,250, which was originally due to be met by 2015.
Meanwhile, the number of students taking up a place at UK medical schools increased by 9% this year, bucking a decade-long trend of numbers either falling or seeing very small growth.
But the BMA warned at the time it would ‘clearly take time’ to train the new students.
Note: this was edited at 20:15 on 22 November to reflect the number of qualified GPs included in the figures