The number of full-time equivalent GPs dropped by 1.3% in the last three months of 2016, new workforce figures reveal.
Official data from NHS Digital, published today, show a decline of 445 FTE GPs, including registrars, locums and retainers, between 30 September and 31 December, from 34,495 to 34,050.
Headcount fell by 0.9% in the same time period, a decrease of 390, to a total of 41,475.
Excluding registrars, locums and retainers, FTE GP numbers fell by 1.1% (323 FTE GPs), from 28,458 to 28,135.
There was a 0.8% decrease in headcount numbers, of 287, when excluding these staff groups, to 34,549, in the three-month period.
The statistics, which are billed ‘experimental’, come despite Government efforts to grow the overall GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020.
When the overhauled methodology for counting GPs was first reported, in April 2016, it showed a 2% decrease in GP numbers from September 2014 to September 2015.
And last year, the numbers fell by 0.3% (95 GP FTEs) from September 2015 to 2016.
The annual comparison in September should represent the high point for GP recruitment as it includes the largest intake of new GP trainees as well as newly qualified GPs.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘GPs are the absolute bedrock of the health service and we remain committed to an extra 5,000 doctors in general practice by 2020.
‘We have made important strides over the last year to improve conditions to attract more GPs – such as paying a large amount of GP indemnity costs, cutting red tape, agreeing a new contract with their union to deliver a 1% pay rise, as well as bringing in new schemes to help GPs work more flexibly towards retirement.
‘We currently have the highest number of GPs in training than ever before, and we know that it will take time for this to impact on GP workforce numbers.
‘We will also take strong action to make sure the almost 600 practices who have not yet reported their workforce numbers do so.’