Available GP time per patient down 10% over past four years

The amount of GP time available per patient in England has dropped by almost 10% over the past four years, official workforce data reveal.

In September 2019, the capacity of the fully-qualified GP workforce was around 55.2 minutes per patient per year according to analysis of data on the GP workforce and numbers of registered patients by NHS Digital.

Four years earlier, however, GP capacity was 9.5% higher at 60.5 minutes per patient per year - reflecting a sharp rise in patient numbers while the GP workforce has been in decline.

The figures came in workforce data for September 2019 that show numbers of full-time equivalent (FTE) fully-qualified GPs continue to fall - with a loss of 340 in the past year alone.

Meanwhile, between September 2015 and September 2019 the number of FTE fully-qualified GPs in England dropped by 1,088. The drop came despite a promise from former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2015 to deliver an extra 5,000 FTE GPs by 2020/21 - a promise his successor Matt Hancock dropped.

Over the same three-year period, the number of patients registered with GP practices in England rose sharply from 56.9m to 60m, a change that has left practices facing ever-increasing pressure.

Meanwhile, figures published this week reveal that in October 2019 GP practices delivered a record number of appointments - 1m more than in any of the past 18 months.

GP appointments

The RCGP warned earlier this year that as the population in England ages, with more than half of consultations now involving patients with more than one long-term condition, GP appointments would need to last a minimum of 15 minutes by 2030.

But the additional workforce required to deliver this shift towards longer appointments is failing to materialise. 

Responding to the latest GP workforce figures, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'We have 340 fewer FTE GPs than we did a year ago, and more than 1,000 fewer than we did in 2015. These numbers are going in the wrong direction - this is disappointing, it is serious and we need to see drastic action taken to reverse this trend.

'We do have more people training to be a GP than ever before, which is encouraging news for the future, but we need to see detailed plans as to how we're going to retain our existing workforce. For too many GPs, escalating workload means that the job is not do-able and as a result highly-trained and experienced GPs are burning out and leaving earlier in their career than they planned. That's not right, and it's not safe, and it is something that the future government, whatever its make-up, needs to tackle as a priority.'

Both Labour and the Conservatives have made high profile pledges to increase GP numbers in the campaign for the 12 December general election. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also promised to increase GP training posts to 5,000 per year, while the Conservatives have promised an increase to 4,000 per year.

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