Qualified GP workforce continues to fall

Author: Ingrid Torjesen

The fully qualified GP workforce working for the NHS fell last year by 277 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs – or by roughly 1%, figures from NHS Digital show.

The figures show that there were 28,319 FTE GPs working for the NHS in December 2019 compared with 28,596 in December 2018. However, the overall headcount of fully qualified GPs increased by 975 or 2.5% to 39,358 suggesting that more GPs are opting to work part-time or more flexibly as locums.

This is borne out in the figures for permanent GPs which showed that the contraction of the GP workforce was greater when GP locums were excluded suggesting a move to locum working. The number of permanent FTE fully qualified GPs fell by 458 by 1.7% between December 2018 and December 2019 to 26,928.

The figures show that the fully-qualified FTE GP workforce has dropped by 1,084 - a 4% reduction – since September 2015 when former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt's September 2015 pledged to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020/21. At the last general election, the Conservatives pledged to increase the GP workforce further - by 6,000 FTE GPs by 2024/25.

Overall workforce figures including GPs in training suggest the government will struggle to meet its recruitment targets. The overall number of FTE GPs including locums and registrars is up by only 199 (0.6%) since December 2018 to 34, 708 - and there was actually fall in number between September and December 2019 of 153. The overall workforce figures also highlight the increasing shift to part-time working as between December 2018 and December 2019 the headcount number of GPs actually increased by 1,473 or 3.3% to 45,869.

The figures also illustrate the continued move to multidisciplinary team patient care within primary care with the greater increase in the number of nurses and other types of staff providing direct patient care increasing dramatically over the last year. The number of FTE nurses in primary care increased by 435 (2.7%) to 16,819 in the year to December 2018, while the number of FTE other direct patient care staff, increased dramatically – by 1,193 (9.3%) to 14,050.