The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in England has fallen slightly although the overall headcount has risen with the real picture showing a significant drop in partner numbers, according to new statistics from NHS Digital.
The latest figures from NHS Digital* (using a revised methodology) on the general practice workforce during 2018 show the number of FTE GPs dropped by 27 during 2018 from 34,537 in December 2017 to 34,510 in December 2018, equating to a 0.1% reduction.
However, the number of fully-qualified FTE GPs, which excludes registrars, fell by 593 during 2018 from 29,190 to 28,596 – a 2% drop.
Growing numbers of FTE registrars in 2018 from 5,347 in December 2017 to 5,913 a year later (a 10.6% jump) helped to boost the overall FTE numbers
Over the same period, the number of FTE GP partners dropped significantly by almost 5% from 20,036 in 2017 to 19,056 in December 2018 - a fall of 980. In terms of headcount, partner numbers fell by 1,003 during 2018, dropping 4.4% from 22,623 to 21,620.
For the total GP headcount, the statistics showed these increased by 459 (1%) during 2018 from 43,937 to 44,396, possibly indicating that more GPs are choosing to work part-time.
The figures cast doubt on the government’s target set in 2015 to recruit 5,000 extra GPs within five years although the precise deadline for the target appears to have been watered down since then.
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee executive team lead for workforce issues, 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.
“Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy fix for this crisis, and while growing numbers of trainees is a positive sign, it will take years before they can – or indeed should be expected to – contribute fully in providing day-to-day care.
“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.”
* NHS Digital. General Practice Workforce Final 31 December 2018, Experimental Statistics (February 2019).