The BMA has said that the Government ‘should not be proud of’ small increases in the number of full-time fully-qualified GPs.
New GP workforce data released by NHS Digital yesterday showed that full-time equivalent (FTE) fully-qualified GP numbers are starting to show very modest improvement month-on-month – rising by eight between July and August this year and then another 41 between August and September.
But this has done little to quell concerns about the scale of the GP workforce crisis, with the BMA warning that the latest NHS workforce data is ‘not something the Government should be proud of’.
The NHS Digital data also showed that the number of full-time fully-qualified GPs has dropped by 1,800 in the last seven years.
There were 27,556 full-time equivalent (FTE) fully-qualified GPs working in practices in England last month. But the number has declined by 1,808 since September 2015 and 364 since the same month last year, down from 29,364 and 27,920 respectively.
BMA representative body chair and workforce lead Dr Latifa Patel said: ‘This decline has coincided with a staggering rise in patient demand and workload. In general practice, a record of nearly 62 million patients are now registered with practices in England.’
She added: ‘Meanwhile, rises in the monthly figures are driven by an increase in trainees, but almost cancelled out by the huge numbers of senior doctors leaving – underlining the need to focus on retaining our skilled clinicians as well as recruiting new ones.
‘Yesterday, the new Prime Minister heralded rising numbers of doctors, but the Government cannot kid itself into thinking that today’s data is the start of a workforce boom in the NHS, or that these figures are something to be proud of. They’re not.’
Dr Patel said that the ‘patient safety is at risk’ with the NHS so ‘woefully understaffed’ and called for the Government to ‘urgently’ publish a ‘comprehensive and funded health and care workforce plan’.
She added that the NHS must become a place that ‘people want to work in’, such as by ‘valuing staff by restoring pay, addressing punitive pension taxation rules and giving them the resources they need to provide the care patients deserve’.
The doctors’ union urged him to use his new position to put forward legislation for an NHS workforce plan – something that Mr Hunt himself has repeatedly called for in recent years – as well as a solution for doctors’ pensions.
Meanwhile, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said the GP data shows ‘a service at breaking point’, with GPs and their teams ‘burning out’ and ‘struggling to manage a workload that is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity’.
He said: ‘While GPs and our teams work harder and harder, the number of fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs has fallen since the Government’s 2019 manifesto pledge to build the workforce by 6,000 by 2024.
‘It’s important that the new Prime Minister and health secretary take note of today’s general practice data and urgently act to address the intense workload and workforce pressures facing our profession, and the impact this is having on patients.’
It comes as the GMC has announced radical new proposals that will enable thousands of secondary care SAS doctors to enter general practice in a bid to solve the workforce crisis.
The BMA warned earlier this month that there has been a 16% rise in the number of patients per full time equivalent (FTE) GP in the past seven years.
NHS Digital GP appointment data also published today revealed that last month saw the highest proportion of GP appointments delivered face to face since before the pandemic, with under one-third carried out remotely.