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GP numbers are declining faster in areas with low-income patients

GP numbers are dwindling faster in areas of England where people earn the least money, according to official data.

Between 2008 and 2017, the number of full-time-equivalent GPs in the lowest-income areas of England reduced by 1,240, while in the most affluent areas it declined by just 397.

By headcount, GP numbers actually increased by 134 in the wealthiest areas, while declining by 511 in the poorer regions.

The data, unveiled by primary care minister Steve Brine in response to a written question from the chair of the work and pensions select committee, saw the population of England divided into five equal categories from most to least deprived.

In all quintiles, the number of FTE GPs increased up until 2014, when the trend turned downwards.

The news comes as the number of full-time-equivalent GPs in England as a whole has decreased by more than 1,000 since 2015, when health secretary Jeremy Hunt made a pledge to boost numbers by 5,000 in five years.

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BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The difficulties of recruiting to areas of deprivation, particularly those away from large cities, has been compounded by the historical lack of investment in infrastructure, such as premises, making it harder to deliver good quality care and therefore it is a less attractive option for younger GPs.’

Mr Hunt has previously acknowledged the issue with the launch of an incentives scheme for medical graduates to train as GPs in areas with recruitment problems.

This year, 265 trainees will be granted a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ payment following an expansion of the scheme.

But Dr Vautrey said: ‘Whilst recruitment incentives, which have been in place in a small number of hard-to-recruit areas for the last couple of years, can help, these are only short-term fixes and do not tackle the root cause of the problems.

‘This requires sustained significant investment, enabling all practices to recruit sufficient GPs and other staff that will engender meaningful change.’

GP workforce by income quintile

England, full-time equivalent GP numbers (excluding registrars, retainers and locums):

Quintile by income (low to high) 2008 2014 2017
1 (most deprived area) 7,487 8,076 6,247
2 7,386 7,821 6,200
3 6,722 7,097 5,862
4 5,442 5,822 4,870
5 (most affluent area) 3,615 3,811 3,218

Source: Hansard