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Safety warning as GP numbers continue to decline


staff drop


The number of fully-qualified, full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in England is continuing to drop, with the BMA warning the development is both unsafe and unsustainable.

The latest GP workforce data showed there were 27,647 fully-qualified, FTE GPs in November 2021, which has dropped by 52 from 27,699 in September 2021.

In the six months between June and November, over 100 fully-qualified FTE GPs have been lost, the official data revealed.

The total number of FTE GPs has dropped by 284 from 36,275 in September 2021 to 35,991 in November.

Between September and November 2021, the headcount of GP partners has decreased by 154, while the headcount of salaried GPs has increased by 164.

The headcount of GPs in training has also decreased by 221 over the quarter, and the headcount of GP regular locums is down by 155.

BMA GP Committee deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said: ‘Since September 2015, when the Government first pledged to recruit an additional 5,000 GPs, England has lost the equivalent of more than 1,750 full-time, fully qualified family doctors, with more than 300 being lost in the last year alone.

‘This means the remaining GPs are now on average caring for 2,222 patients – this is around 300 more than they were [in] 2015, and is significantly more than GPs in similar countries.

‘Therefore, the loss of family doctors in the last year is the equivalent of more than 700,000 patients losing “their GP”.’

GP numbers September-November 2021

SeptOctNovSep-Nov change
FTE GPs36,27536,11835,991-284
Headcount GPs45,68145,45645,303-378
FTE fully-qualified GPs27,69927,65927,647-52
Headcount fully-qualified GPs37,13837,04337,010-128
FTE GP partners16,92216,82316,794-128
FTE salaried GPs9,6789,7769,815+137
FTE GPs in training8,5768,4598,344-232
FTE GP regular locums848811791-57
Source: NHS Digital 2021 data

Dr Sharrock added: ‘Doing more with fewer staff is not safe and not sustainable. Most recently we’ve seen practices pulling out all the stops so they can help deliver the booster and vaccine campaign – but this has meant re-prioritising other care. Sadly, and amid pressures across the whole NHS system, we recognise this results in patients waiting longer for the care they need.

‘Unfortunately, we cannot do everything for everyone all of the time. Staff are exhausted, burnt out and putting their own health at risk – which threatens to make the problem far worse. There is then the further impact of absence caused by Omicron in recent weeks – and we cannot afford to lose any more valuable staff at this crucial time.’

BMA GPC chair Dr Farah Jameel said the situation was ‘not sustainable’ after NHS Digital’s previous dataset showed the continued decline of GP numbers.

Further worsening the workforce crisis, GP practices are struggling with Covid staff absences, with 95% experiencing much higher levels of staff off sick than usual.

Fire and rescue and police forces were among the extra workforce stood up to support GPs to deliver the accelerated Covid booster programme.

And a High Court ruling against Dr Philip Mitchell last month was said to have put young doctors off a career in general practice.

After admitting the Government is ‘not on track’ to meet its election pledge of 6,000 extra GPs by 2025, health secretary Sajid Javid said he would ‘wait and see’ where it gets to.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee has announced an inquiry into NHS workforce recruitment, training and retention, which is accepting evidence until 19 January.

Its inquiry into how the NHS could tackle the care backlog following the pandemic already determined workforce was the major obstacle.

READERS' COMMENTS [10]

Kevlar Cardie 7 January, 2022 5:26 pm

Yeah, but we’re gonna have God Save the Queen on the telly at the end of every night, so what’s the drama ?

Cameron Wilson 7 January, 2022 5:43 pm

Don’t worry those guardians of patients best interest ,CQC and GMC will be vocally all over this and insisting on safe working conditions to be implemented rather than expect more blood out of the stone! If only!!!

Patrufini Duffy 7 January, 2022 6:05 pm

Don’t worry – you might be treated equal to a HGV driver soon.

Alfred Brown 7 January, 2022 7:07 pm

Anyone know how many GP’s are leaving for Australia etc?

Doc Getmeout 8 January, 2022 9:41 am

We have a high number of foreign trained Doctors in UK and then is it sustainable to continue to poach third world doctors (and nurses) to the defunct politically managed NHS.
This is likely to carry on!

This is at the expense of the third world health services.

Some" Bloke 8 January, 2022 10:27 am

Most of my trainees are from different parts of the globe, but mostly from areas that some would call “the third world’. What is interesting is that, with few exceptions, when comparing nhs to their country’s healthcare systems, they find UK system under- resourced and underperforming. I would argue that we have real third world healthcare system here

Dave Haddock 8 January, 2022 7:30 pm

And who has been negotiating the contract that determines GP working conditions? The BMA. Good job guys, first class, thanks for everything. Don’t forget to turn the lights out when we have all left.
And a special mention for the RCGP for their enthusiasm for Appraisal, useless tickbox training, and rebranding GPs as medically qualified social workers.

David jenkins 9 January, 2022 12:26 pm

come to locumland – where YOU control your workload, pay, holidays, terms of engagement etc, AND you get paid on time, and accurately. no silly diktats from people less qualified than you, no “ganfyd” rubbish, if a practice takes the piss (and in 15 yrs of locumming, none has) simply don’t work there again. ok, the downside is that appraisal and revalidation are more challenging, but that’s a price you have to pay. no dealing with idiots from the PCT (or LHB in wales) – simply say to them “i work for dr x, not you”.

ok, no sick pay, holiday pay, mat/paternity pay etc, but juggle your fees to account for that.

seriously – try it, i now actually enjoy going to work !

i qualified in 1976, and will be 72 in february (if covid doesn’t get me first !)

Thomas Robinson 9 January, 2022 6:30 pm

I was really hoping somebody else would ask this

The figure for GP in training, is presumably for 3 years, not one. In other words for the 18 months they are in hospital as well. It can hardly be argued they count to the GP workforce, if they are in hospital. As presented the figures suggest every other partner is a trainer with a trainee, which seems a little implausible. It also suggests you could replace all partners every two years with the trainee output, again implausible.One wonders if they also appear on the hospital staff workforce numbers as well, in which case is there some double accounting going on here.

The figures quoted in a recent BMJ article imply an even greater proportion of the workforce is salaried
https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l5001

Nevertheless the figures for salaried doctors, added to those for trainees, who are of course salaried exceeds the figure for partners, so we have reached a majority salaried workforce. Having criticised the BMA for lack of action for many years it now seems pertinent to question what if anything they could actually do.

Salaried doctors are protected by basic employment legislation. It appears doctors are judging this to be far superior to anything the BMA could negotiate.

So what if this trend continues ?

David Mummery 10 January, 2022 6:52 pm

It basically means that the GP partnership era is nearing its endgame