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NHS loses nearly 5,000 GP partners in a decade, official data reveal

The number of GP partners working for the NHS in England has fallen by nearly 5,000 in the past 10 years.

This comes as yesterday’s quarterly workforce data from NHS Digital revealed a drop in partner numbers of 308 in the last three months for which data was available.

According to NHS Digital’s recent GP trends in the UK report, there were 34,032 GP partners in England in 2007, compared to just 29,272 in 2017, for which the latest full-year data was published.

The latest quarterly figure, collected on a provisional basis for June 2018, showed that there were 22,285 GP partners, but this was down from 22,593 in March this year.

The news comes as the overall GP workforce situation worsened further, with full-time equivalent GP numbers (including all different types of roles) dropping by 523 between March and June this year.

The Government has launched a review to ‘reinvigorate’ the partnership model and introduce ‘attractive features’ of salaried and locum GP roles to partnerships in an effort to entice more GPs into the role.

Commenting on the official data, review lead Dr Nigel Watson pointed out that ‘if we carry on in that trajectory then having general practice based on the partnership model is pretty disastrous’, ‘particularly [as] a lot of the concerns about risk and workload means more sits with fewer people’.

He told Pulse: ‘The review is important because it will look at the balance between the risks and rewards, so that it’s more rewarding to be a partner and less risky. Because it has come to [a stage where] the risk outweighs the reward.’

He added: ‘If we can make GPs’ working day and the workload more doable then I think we can reverse the trend, but if we do nothing then it will certainly get worse.’

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the figures ‘provide clear evidence as to why the current partnership review is so important’.

He said: ‘In recent years as the pressures on practices have grown the risk carried by parters has become unsustainable for many. There is a clear need to tackle these risks, particularly unlimited workload, rising indemnity, premises liabilities, and staffing responsibilities.

‘We need to enable partners to have greater flexibility and ability to manage their workload so that we dramatically reduce the risk of burnout. By tackling these and other issues that the partnership review is identifying, more GPs may have confidence to take on a partnership in the future.’

A Department of Health and social care spokesperson said: ‘We recognise the huge contribution the GP partnership model has made to the patients over the lifetime of the NHS – and that’s why we have commissioned a review to look at how the partnership model can be reinvigorated.’

GP partners in numbers

Development over the last decade GP partners Salaried GPs
2007 34,032 6,598
2008 34,065 7,274
2009 34,343 8,959
2010 33,750 9,015
2011 33,888 9,356
2012 33,564 9,665
2013 33,271 9,982
2014 32,828 10,765
2015 31,403 11,795
2016 30,401 12,143
2017 29,272 12,743

*because of a change in data collection in 2010, previous years’ figures may not be directly comparable

*dataset excludes registrars, retainers and locums

Development over the last year GP partners Salaried GPs GP registrars GP retainers GP locums
June 2017 23,192 11,129 4,907 201 2,630
September 2017 22,919 11,497 5,412 218 2,631
December 2017 22,770 11,779 5,272 254 2,212
March 2018 22,593 11,979 5,222 286 2,192
June 2018 – provisional 22,285 11,974 5,110 294 2,102

Sources: NHS Digital GP trends in the UK and quarterly GP workforce data