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GP workforce grew by 850 in three months, official data reveal

Numbers of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs working in England rose over the summer, according to figures published today by NHS Digital.

Provisional GP workforce data for September 2018 showed there were 34,205 FTE GPs in England, which was 854 more than the 33,351 GPs in June – a 2.6% increase. 

However, this followed a decline of more than 500 between March and June this year.

Also between June and September, total headcount numbers rose by 1,038 from 41,407 to 42,445.

But without registrars, retainers and locums, the FTE GP workforce figure was almost static at 27,435 – only six GPs more than the 27,429 number in June, and 401 fewer than the same time last year.

Of these, 24.1% were aged over 55, and the female to male ratio was 45.4% to 49%, with the remainder being of unknown gender.

Dr Helena McKeown, BMA GP committee policy lead for workforce, said: ‘These figures confirm provisional data released last month: that while numbers may be up slightly from the summer, there are still 400 fewer full-time equivalent GPs in England than there were this time last year.

‘In the face of mounting demand and unmanageable workloads, hard-working GPs are leaving the profession because they feel they are no longer able to guarantee the high-quality and safe care that their patients deserve.’

The news comes as the NHS in England recruited record numbers of GP trainees this year, surpassing their target of 3,250 for the first time.

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But the Government is still way off course to hit its target, set out in 2015, of increasing GP numbers by 5,000 by 2020. The FTE GP headcount in September 2015 was 34,592 – 387 more GPs than in latest provisional data.

Earlier this autumn, health secretary Matt Hancock said he was in talks with NHS bosses about setting a new date for the target for reaching the goal

Dr McKeown said: ‘Despite the Government’s pledges to boost GP numbers, the long-term trend is going the other way.

‘As the number of patients rises – with around 59.5 million registered with a practice – NHS England is promising that all will have access to GP services seven days a week. This ambition cannot realistically be fulfilled as the GP workforce declines.

‘Only with proper investment in general practice and support for GPs and their teams can this change. Committed family doctors must feel valued if we are to retain their valuable expertise and ensure safe patient care and maintain a solid foundation for an NHS fit for the future.’

With regards to practice staff, the latest NHS Digital report showed that general practice nurse numbers (FTE) rose slightly from 15,889 in March to 16,037 in September – a rise of 148 more nurses.

And the overall number of direct patient care staff increased in this time period from 12,013 FTE staff in March to 12,247 in September.

Small year-on-year rise in GP numbers

  September 2017 June 2018 (final) September 2018 (provisional) Annual percentage change
All GPs, headcount 42,145 41,407 42,445 0.71%
All GPs, FTE 34,091 33,351 34,205 0.33%
GPs excluding registrars, retainers and locums, headcount 34,267 34,127 34,318 0.12%
GPs excluding registrars, retainers and locums, FTE 27,836 27,429 27,435 -1.44%

Source: NHS digital