The number of GPs per 100,000 population in England has declined by 2.6% since 2009, the Government has revealed.
In 2013 there were 67.8 GPs per 100,000 people, which was down compared to 69.6 in 2009, health minister Dr Daniel Poulter revealed in response to a parliamentary question.
The Government has ‘recognised the need to increase the GP workforce’, had increased full-time equivalent GPs by 1,051 since 2011, and mandated that by 2016 50% of medical students would go into GP training, he said in the written response to Labour shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham MP.
Meanwhile another written question from a Labour MP threw up statistics that showed in the past five years for which figures were available, from 2007/08 until 2012/13, spending on general practice grew by only 9%, compared to a 40% growth in the previous five years between 2003/04 to 2007/08.
The figures emerged as Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire on GP numbers and funding during Question Time on Wednesday. Labour MP for North East Derbyshire Natascha Engel said that in her constituency, ‘three large GP practics in the most deprived areas… are facing a crisis’, as she asked what Mr Cameron was doing about GP numbers to address a national shortage of 10,000.
Meanwhile, Bethnal Green and Bow’s Labour MP Rushanara Ali said: ‘On the Prime Minister’s watch, five GP surgeries in my borough, and 98 nationally, face closure. Is that what he meant when he promised to protect the NHS?’
Responding to the questions, Mr Cameron admitted that ‘to provide more GPs, we need to provide money’ but claimed the Government was doing this already.
He said: ‘This Government have increased spending on the NHS, which the Labour party told us was irresponsible. What we see in our NHS today is 7,000 more doctors, more nurses and more midwives, but 19,000 fewer bureaucrats. I think that is absolutely vital in providing the health services we need.’
‘What I meant when I said we would protect the NHS is just that. We are spending £12.7 billion more on the NHS; Labour said that that was irresponsible. We have 7,000 more doctors in our NHS, 3,000 more nurses in our NHS, and over 1,000 more midwives in our NHS, but there is something we have less of in our NHS — we have 19,000 fewer bureaucrats, and that money has been piled into patient care, including improving primary care right around the country.’
Last year, a Nuffield Trust report highlighted that the number of GPs per 100,000 population had risen from 58.1 in 2000, but the study authors said this needed to improve to around 83 to 84 GPs per 100,000 population by 2030. They concluded that in order to achieve this, the Government would need to make general practice more appealing as a career choice.
The Nuffield Trust has also warned that spending on GP services dropped over the past 10 years, while investment in hospitals rose sharply, showing the Department of Health’s plans to shift more care into the community and cut costs were ‘in reverse’, and that as a proportion of GDP spending on NHS on the whole is also decreasing, despite Government claims the health budget is protected.
The debate feeds into the parallel campaigns recently launched by the RCGP and the BMA for more funding to general practice, with both calling for GP services to receive at least 11% of the total NHS budget, after it fell to about 8.4%.