The average number of registered patients per GP in England has risen to 2,087 – an extra 56 people compared with last year – according to new official figures.
Registered patients in England have increased by over 723,000 – or 1.2% – between July 2018 and July 2019, data from NHS Digital shows.
However, the number of full-time equivalent fully-qualified GPs fell by 441 between March 2018 and March 2019 – the most recent dates for which data is available.
This means the number of average patients per GP is 2,087, which represents an increase of 56 from last year when the number of patients per GP was 2,031, when comparing data over equivalent time periods.
A study from the Netherlands in 2013, which looked into if practice size was the key to quality of care, found that with each extra patient over 2,000 patients per GP, quality of care declined.
GPs have warned the increasing numbers of patients is ‘concerning’ and putting patient safety under threat.
Walsall LMC secretary Dr Uzma Ahmad said: ‘There are less GPs hence they have to take on more share of the work for those patients, which is definitely going to increase pressures on already stretched services and then GPs.
‘From that point of view I think these are really concerning figures for the politicians and the Department of Health and Social Care to see whether we are able to meet the requirements in the near future and also whether we’re meeting are promises for having increased numbers of GPs that we were promised to have by 2020.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said patients in England are finding it ‘increasingly difficult’ to access the care they need.
She said: ‘The knock-on effect of the pressures currently facing general practice are still clear, and patients are finding it increasingly difficult to access the services they need, when they need them, and this must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
‘GPs are seeing more than a million patients a day across the UK, but this increase in patient demand is not being met with adequate levels of resourcing and staffing, leaving patients waiting longer for appointments and some GPs burnt out, which ultimately puts patient safety under threat.’
She added: ‘We need to see more resources and funding reaching the frontline in general practice, including effective implementation of the NHS long-term plan, and more details about how the aspirations in the interim People Plan will be achieved through a clear, costed action plan, to ensure GPs and our teams can continue to deliver the best care possible to patients.’
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We recognise that patients are often waiting too long for appointments, and this is equally frustrating for GPs and their teams.
‘With the launch of primary care networks, and the introduction of additional practice-based staff, we hope that patients will receive quicker access to the right healthcare professional while freeing up GPs to see those who need their expertise most. In doing so, general practice can maintain the high levels of patient satisfaction it is so proud of.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘GPs are the bedrock of the NHS, and the long-term plan makes clear our commitment to the future of general practice – backed by an extra £4.5 billion more a year for primary and community care by 2023/24.
‘Last year a record 3,473 doctors were recruited into GP training and the new historic five-year contract for general practice will provide greater certainty for GPs to plan ahead and will see funding towards up to 20,000 extra staff working in GP practices – helping free up doctors to spend more time with the patients who need them.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘There is complete agreement that we need more GPs and it is encouraging that the number of young doctors choosing GP training is now at its highest ever. But current GPs need, and are getting more, support including through the new indemnity and premises arrangements, with further action to come on pensions.
‘These figures don’t include the thousands of primary care support staff such as nurses, health care assistants, counsellors and pharmacists who also help meet the needs of patients. As outlined in the long-term plan, wider teams of multi-skilled professionals are now supporting GPs under pressure and new data shows more than nine in 10 patients report they had confidence and trust in their healthcare professional.’
It comes as the health secretary Matt Hancock has said he will ‘look’ at including a new deadline for increasing the GP workforce by an extra 5,000 in the final version of the forthcoming NHS workforce plan.
Despite the increasing pressures, data released today by NHS England found that 96% of patients have confidence in their GP, according to a patient survey.
Earlier this year Pulse’s workload survey found that half of GPs said they were working above safe limits, on average completing 11-hour days and dealing with a third more patients than they said they should be.