The Labour Party has called for an urgent debate in Parliament on the ‘crisis’ in primary care, amid falling GP numbers.
The opposition party has tabled a motion calling on the health secretary to ‘bring forward a plan to recruit the doctors which were promised at the last election’.
Analysis of NHS Digital GP workforce data conducted by the Labour party found that 4,458 GPs were lost to the NHS in England between 2013 and April this year – dropping 14% from 32,200 to 27,700.
- The latest available data, published last month, showed that there were 27,743 full-time equivalent (FTE) fully-qualified GPs in April.
- The dataset only goes back to September 2015, however an earlier version of the dataset published in 2015 showed there were 32,201 FTE fully-qualified GPs in 2013, when NHS England was first established.
Labour also pointed to NHS Digital data showing that ‘more than 300 GP practices have closed’ since the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promise to hire 6,000 more GPs.
The latest GP appointments data, also published last month, showed that the 6,837 GP practices in England in November 2019 fell to 6,536 in April 2022.
However, Labour failed to take into account that some of the difference could represent practice mergers.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said ‘a decade of Conservative mismanagement’ had left the NHS ‘wanting and inadequate’.
‘People are finding it impossible to get a GP appointment when they need one, leaving them in pain and discomfort and meaning serious conditions will be missed,’ he said.
‘Now the Conservatives are breaking their promise to hire the GPs we need.’
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said the GP workforce is ‘growing’, pointing to data on all FTE GPs, including trainees.
They said: ‘The GP workforce is growing – there were over 1,400 more FTE doctors working in general practice in March 2022 compared to March 2019 and a record-breaking number started training as GPs last year.’
‘The Covid pandemic has had a significant impact on waiting times and access to GP appointments. However, we’ve also invested £1.5 billion until 2025 to create an extra 50 million appointments per year by 2024 by expanding and diversifying the workforce.’
They stressed that the 2013 data is not comparable to the dataset currently used across general practice due to a change in the way general practice workforce data is produced in 2015.
In a further blow, a major Pulse survey revealed this month that half of the existing GP workforce plans to retire at or before the age of 60.
Speaking at a Pulse conference, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said in April that he holds himself ‘completely responsible’ for the failure to fulfil his own promise of recruiting 5,000 extra GPs.