GP numbers not keeping pace with demand, warns GPC

GP numbers are failing to keep pace with rising demand and workload in general practice and the quality of workforce data is questionable, GP leaders have warned

Dr Chaand Nagpaul: warning over GP workforce (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: warning over GP workforce (Photo: JH Lancy)

Official data show the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in England rose 1.7% from 2013 to 2014.

But GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul told GP: ‘This increase in no way matches the escalation in demand and workload in general practice.

‘These figures show there has not been a significant increase in GP numbers and there is a considerable gulf between the demands of GP practices and the capacity to provide care.’

GP numbers rising

Workforce data published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show a slight rise in GP numbers in all UK countries apart from Wales, where GP numbers dropped by 1%.

Dr David Bailey, deputy chairman of GPC Wales, said the way workforce statistics are compiled is unreliable.

Numbers of GPs in England compiled by the HSCIC use both ‘headcount’ figures and FTE counts – both of which GPs say are flawed.

‘This data is not reliable, and there’s no requirement for GPs to say the number of hours they work,’ Dr Bailey said.

GP workforce data

‘In my practice, every single one of us does something other than GP work – my partner works full time, but not always in general practice. They might do training, occupational health, politics, all these sorts of things, but in theory they’re all full-time GPs.’

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘Simply looking at FTE numbers does not reflect the nature of the work GPs are doing. We know that in the last five years, we have seen an increase in consultation in general practice.

‘Some of these GPs will be working in roles other than in GP surgeries, and increasingly many GPs have portfolio working patterns.’

Dr Bailey called for better assessment of GP workload, which takes into account portfolio careers and other responsibilities.

Dr Nagpaul also highlighted numbers of GPs over 55 as a cause for concern.

The HSCIC data show 21.9% of GPs are over 55, and Dr Nagpaul warned: ‘Over the next five years, we know that large numbers of GPs over 50 and are intending to retire early.’

The HSCIC's report on the NHS workforce said GP FTE data is taken from the 'Exeter' GP payment system. It said: 'There is good evidence that the field is well maintained. The data is validated/’cleaned’ using other data items relating to working hours/commitment and multiple contract working is reviewed.

'The published FTE data, down to individual practice level is potentially not 100% accurate with source of error due to difficulties standardising session length or full-time working week across the country, however it is indicative of commitment.'

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