The GP workforce in England is continuing to decline, as official statistics reveal that 316 full-time equivalent GPs have left the profession in the last three months.
The figures released by NHS Digital today also reveal that the number of FTE GPs in the workforce has decreased more than 1,000 since September 2015 – when health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced he would increase the number of FTE GPs in England by 5,000.
NHS England is recruiting from overseas in a bid to boost GP numbers, but Pulse revealed last month that they had only managed to recruit 85 by April – despite originally touting the figure of 600.
The latest statistics show that in the last three months, the workforce has fallen from 33,890 FTE GPs in December 2017 to 33,574 as of 31 March 2018.
Meanwhile, the workforce is 1,018 GPs worse off than it was in September 2015.
This is despite the success of NHS England’s induction and refresher scheme, which has tempted 546 GPs back into the workforce since its launch in 2015.
The news comes as a Pulse investigation, published earlier this month, showed a steep rise in the number of GPs claiming their pension early. Since 2013, almost 3,000 GPs have claimed their pension before the age of 60.
The BMA has previously warned the Government that continued sub-inflation uplifts to GP pay is going to further exacerbate GP workforce shortages, having asked the independent review body on doctor’s pay to recommend a 2% uplift for 2018/19.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, said the latest workforce statistics are ‘extremely concerning’.
He said: ‘It’s more than two and a half years since the health secretary promised to recruit 5,000 more GPs before 2020, and these figures are a damning progress report. With less than two years until this target date, the trend is clearly going the other way and it’s a sign that a step change in action needs to be taken.
‘As GPs struggle with rising demand, increasing workloads and burdensome admin, and are expected to do so with insufficient resources, it’s no surprise that talented doctors are leaving the profession and although the number of GP training places have increased, this is not enough to address the dire recruitment and retention crisis.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘These figures are yet another hammer blow for family doctors, for whom going the extra mile is now the norm, and for our patients. The stark truth is that we are losing GPs at an alarming rate at a time when we need thousands more to deliver the care our patients need, and keep our profession, and the wider NHS, sustainable.
‘It is clear that substantial efforts to increase the GP workforce in England are falling short – and we need urgent action to address this. We have made great strides over the past couple of years encouraging more medical students and foundation doctors to choose general practice, but these efforts will be futile, if more GPs are leaving the profession than entering it.’
She said this comes as ‘GP workload is escalating, both in volume and complexity, and the hardworking GPs we do have are burning out as we try to cope without the resources and support we need’.
‘Longer and longer days in clinic is what our members are telling us they face when they come to work in the morning, exacerbated by a mountain of bureaucracy and paperwork. This isn’t safe for GPs, our teams, or our patients, and if it isn’t tackled GPs will continue to leave the profession early, and new GPs will be put off from joining,’ she added.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the data marked ‘yet another broken promise on NHS staffing from ministers’.
‘It’s an embarrassing failure for the secretary of state that far from delivering the extra GPs primary care desperately need, there are now 1,000 fewer family doctors than in 2015.
‘The truth is that the Tories have failed to bring forward a sustainable long term plan for the NHS. The consequence is the biggest financial squeeze in its 70-year history and a failure to recruit the frontline doctors and nurses we need to care for patients.’
A department of health and social care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to meeting our objective of recruiting an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020. This is an ambitious target and shows our commitment to growing a strong and sustainable general practice for the future.
‘More than 3,000 GPs have entered training this year, 1,500 new medical school places are being made available by 2019 and NHS England plans to recruit an extra 2,000 overseas doctors in the next three years.’