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Number of qualified FTE GPs drops by 2% in a year

The number of fully qualified full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs has dropped by 2% over the past year, according to new figures.

Data published by NHS Digital today revealed the number of fully qualified GPs, excluding registars, went from 29,190 to 28,596 between December 2017 and December 2018.

The figures also showed there were 1,003 fewer GP partners (headcount) over the same period, a 4.4% decline.

This comes as analysis by the Health Foundation said worrying trends in the NHS workforce, including falling numbers of FTE GPs, will seriously hinder the Government’s plan to move care out of hospitals and into the community.

Last month, health secretary Matt Hancock told Pulse a new date for when the Government should meet its target of adding 5,000 more GPs in the workforce has not been set.

In 2015, then health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to add at least 10,000 extra primary care staff, including 5,000 GPs, within five years.

But Mr Hancock has since said that while the target still exists, the timing ‘will be slower than was originally envisaged’.

BMA GP Committee workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: ‘Despite pledges from the Government to increase numbers of GPs, these figures confirm that the complete opposite is happening on the ground.

‘Workforce shortages continue to blight general practice and exacerbate other workplace pressures, including unmanageable workloads, for the remaining staff.’

‘It is important, however, to note the great progress made in the recent five-year contract deal, which will improve the way practices can work together, with a wider range of health professionals to manage demand and improve working conditions for GPs. It is by making general practice a more attractive prospect, and fostering a more positive working environment, that we can begin to recruit and retain more talented doctors to the profession,’ he added.

Kent LMC medical secretary Dr Mike Parks said the figures are worrying but not surprising.

He said: ‘[These figures are] worrying but not particularly surprising, they certainly mirror our experience in Kent, where we have some of the worst doctor-patient ratios in England.

‘Of course these figures predate the outcome of the partnership review and the publication of the 2019/20 contract deal. We will all be working very hard to make general practice an increasingly attractive place to work. The provision of the state-backed indemnity scheme and the development of primary care networks are both good news for general practice and will help.’

BMA’s GPC workforce subcommittee member Dr Victoria Weeks said the data may reflect the number of FTE GPs decreasing their sessions or becoming locums, rather than leaving the profession.

She said: ‘I suspect a good proportion of the drop in FTE is due to an increase in the number of GPs going part-time, as opposed to actually leaving.’

‘Last year, I was able to find out that the decrease in contractor GPs was just about mirrored by as an increase in salaried and Locum GP numbers. It’s not that they’re leaving the profession, what they are doing is they’re changing what they do.

‘But I do feel worried about the figures. We’re decreasing the number of FTE GPs quite substantially, and that will impact upon clinical service provision.’

Last year, Pulse revealed the number of GP partners working for the NHS in England had fallen by nearly 5,000 in the past 10 years.

FTE practice staff as of December 2018:

  • All GPs: 34,510, a 0.1% drop (27) compared to December 2017
  • All fully qualified GPs, excluding registars: 28,596, a 2% decrease (593) compared to December 2017
  • Nurses: 16,384, which is a 1.8% increase (288) compared to December 2017
  • Direct patient care staff: 12,858, a 6.6% rise (793) compared to December 2017
  • Admin and non-clinical staff: 66,776, a 2.2% increase (1,412) compared to December 2017

Source: NHS Digital

Data published by NHS Digital today revealed the number of fully qualified GPs, excluding registrars, changed from 29,190 to 28,596 between December 2017 and December 2018.