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GP numbers have fallen by 1,340 in just two years

Figures are a damning progress report on government pledge on GP recruitment say doctors’ leaders

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The total number of full-time equivalent GPs in England fell by 316 between last December and March and has plummeted by 1,340 over the past two years, according to the latest official figures from NHS Digital. The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has called the figures “yet another hammer blow for hardworking GPs” and the BMA said they were a “damning progress report on the government’s pledge to recruit more doctors”.

NHS Digital yesterday published its data (provisional for March 2018) on the numbers and details of all general practice staff groups in England, broken down by type, gender, and age. These show that:

  • The total GP full-time equivalent (FTE) (including registrars, retainers and locums) was 33,574 as at March 2018, a decrease of 316 (0.9%) from 33,890 in December 2017 and 1,340 (3.8%) fewer than the 34,914 in March 2016.
  • The total GP FTE (excluding registrars, retainers and locums) was 27,773 at March 2018 – a decrease of 157 (0.6%) from 27,930 in December 2017 and 1,260 (4.3%) fewer than the 29,033 two years ago.
  • GP headcount (including registrars, retainers and locums) was 41,693 at March 2018. This is a decrease of 136 (0.3%) from 41,829 in December 2017 – and a drop of 292 (0.7%) from the 41,985 two years ago.
  • GP headcount (excluding registrars, retainers and locums) was 34,435 at March 2018. This is a small increase of 40 from the 34,395 in December 2017 – but a decrease of 722 (2.1%) from the 35,157 two years ago. 
  • The total headcount was 22,976 for nurses, 18,132 for Direct Patient Care staff and 92,873 for admin/non-clinical staff at March 2018.
  • The total FTE was 15,889 for nurses, 12,013 for Direct Patient Care staff and 64,857 for admin/non-clinical staff as at March 2018.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard commented: “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.”

She warned: “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.

“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.”

The BMA pointed out that with fewer GPs and a rising population, patients are finding it harder to get appointments, which means the rest of the health service is suffering as a result. Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee England chair, said: “Despite repeated pledges from the government to increase the GP workforce, it is extremely concerning to see the number of GPs in England falling once again. 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.”

He added: “To make general practice an enticing career prospect once again we also need a step change in investment, something the government must urgently address.”

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