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Number of GPs continues to decline as 200 leave in three months

The GP workforce in England is continuing to decline, with 219 full-time equivalent GPs lost to the profession since September.

Quarterly data released today by NHS Digital show that although the total number of GPs increased by 328 in the last three months of 2017, when translated into FTE numbers there was a significant decline.

In the 12 months to 31 December 2017, the total number of GPs grew by 228 but fell by 254 full-time equivalent doctors, according to the provisional data.

However, this was a huge improvement on provisional data released in November, that had suggested FTE GP numbers fell by 1,200 in the 12 months to September 2017. NHS Digital has since revised this number to a decline of 404 FTE GPs.

NHS Digital said this was due to how GP registrars are included in provisional statistics released quarterly.

A spokesperson for NHS Digital said the statistics for registrars are contained in the electronic staff record, rather than being provided by practices directly, due to the way they are paid.

However, data from this record are not available until eight weeks after the statistics are compiled by NHS Digital.

But the figures continue to indicate that the Government is way behind on its five-year target to increase GP numbers by 5,000 by 2020.

In the time period from September 2015 to December 2017, the total number of GPs decreased by 60 – or 720 FTE.

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.

It also comes as NHS England missed a target to recruit 600 GPs from overseas by April this year, although NHS England has since claimed it never set this target. In all, NHS England is looking to recruit 3,000 GPs from overseas in a bid to help reach the 5,000 target.

The BMA has warned the Government that continued sub-inflation uplifts to GP pay is going to further exacerbate GP workforce shortages. It has 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 GP workforce numbers were ‘increasingly worrying’.

He told Pulse: ‘Despite the best attempts to increase the numbers by 5,000 we are going backwards not forwards and that impacts on patient care. That impacts on the viability of practices. It means it’s so much more difficult to recruit GPs when an older GP retires and it really does need to be tackled.’

He added: ‘NHS England needs to make a demonstrable increase in the funding elements of general practice. They need to resolve some of the issues that are barriers to doctors choosing general practice, whether that be the indemnity arrangement or the risks around premises, or the workload.

‘We need to do much more to talk up general practice to attract GPs and to retain GPs.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘For some, the pressure has become too much and it’s genuinely awful that some GPs are prematurely leaving a profession, which, when properly resourced and funded, can be so rewarding and fulfilling.

‘But ultimately, it’s our patients who suffer when we lose GPs and we need to make sure that, as well as retaining existing and experienced doctors, measures are taken to attract new GPs to the profession for the future.’

GP workforce in numbers

 Role September 2015 March 2016 September 2016 December 2016 March 2017 June 2017
September 2017 December 2017 – provisional
All practitioners 34,592 34,914 34,495 34,126 33,921 33,560 34,091 33,872
GP providers 21,937 21,597 21,163 20,835 20,702 20,499 20,234 20,128
Salaried/other GPs 7,292 7,436 7,295 7,300 7,390 7,359 7,603 7,802
GP registrars 4,729 5,114 5,273 5,259 4,799 4,647 5,135 4,997
GP retainers 67 78 72 69 81 84 90 108
GP locums 567 690 692 663 949 970 1,029 836

Source: NHS Digital