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GP numbers in England tumble by nearly 1000 in four years, analysis shows

9000 extra GPs needed to run services to meet patient demand and provide high quality care, says TUC

Caroline White

Monday, 09 December 2019

The number of GPs in England has tumbled by nearly 1000 (917) since 2015, despite government promises to boost the numbers, a new analysis by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has shown.

An additional 9000 doctors are needed to run services at the right level, say unions.

In 2015 the Conservative government pledged to recruit 5000 more GPs by 2020. But since then, the number of doctors at GP surgeries has fallen while patient demand has increased.

Doctors’ leaders say the average number of patients individual GPs should have on their list is 1600 in order to provide a high-quality service. But in September this year the average number of patients per GP was 2100, finds the analysis.

And GP patient lists have risen by 160 (8%), on average, since 2015, prompting the average wait for a routine GP appointment to exceed two weeks.

Certain areas of the country are particularly badly affected by the shortages, the analysis shows.

The North East, where the number of GPs has dropped by 11%, and the East of England, where numbers have dropped by 7%, have seen the biggest overall fall in doctors since 2015.

The five areas of the country in need of the most GPs are: NHS Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (East of England), where the shortfall is 178 GPs; NHS Birmingham and Solihull (West Midlands), which are 172 GPs short; NHS Leeds (Yorkshire and Humber), where the shortfall is 142 GPs; NHS Derby and Derbyshire (East Midlands), which are 138 GPs short; and NHS Nene (East Midlands), where the shortfall is 128 GPs.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Conservatives promised a big increase in GP numbers. But on their watch the number of doctors has fallen while demand has increased.

“Our hardworking and overstretched GPs are working tirelessly to help patients. But there are simply not enough of them to keep up with demand.

“As a result patients are not getting the treatments they need on time. And family doctors are stressed and overwhelmed.”

The next government had to invest in the NHS and boost GP numbers, she insisted.

Figures calculated using NHS digital data in October 2015 and September 2019. Registrars are excluded from this analysis


Full time equivalent GPs % change 2015-19

% change registered patients 2015-19

Shortfall in number of GPs


East of England




East Midlands




Greater London




North East




North West




South East




South West




West Midlands




Yorkshire & the Humber





Total England




Commenting on the analysis, Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association GP committee chair, said: “As we’ve said time and time again, there are simply not enough GPs to meet demand and guarantee safe, quality care to patients. And as doctors stretch themselves more thinly, they risk their own health and wellbeing.”

He continued: “As this analysis shows, despite pledges to increase numbers by 5,000 by next year, we’ve seen the exact opposite – with hundreds fewer family doctors than we did in 2015. While election promises to boost GP numbers are necessary and encouraging, politicians must learn from mistakes of the past.

“This means both encouraging more young doctors to choose general practice, while retaining those talented and experienced GPs who work tirelessly in their communities every day. And it means tackling unsustainable workloads and mounting bureaucracy, while scrapping damaging pension rules that are causing so many doctors to reduce their hours or leave the profession altogether.”

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