Decline in GP workforce slows but partners remain in freefall

GP numbers in England have stabilised after months of rapid decline, the latest official data reveal - but numbers of partners remain in freefall.

GP consultation (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)
GP consultation (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

The overall full-time equivalent (FTE) GP workforce rose from 33,012 in June to 34,132 in September, according to provisional data published by NHS Digital. The latest figure is just 0.1% up from the same time last year - but leaves the overall FTE GP workforce at its highest point since December 2016.

However, the increase over the past three months was driven entirely by a large cohort of GP registrars entering the workforce over this period. Registrar numbers grew from 4,710 in June to 5,854 in September, the data show.

This is almost double the increase in registrars over the same period in 2017, suggesting that growing numbers of GP trainees are beginning to filter through into the workforce.

GP trainees

Despite the overall increase, numbers of FTE GPs excluding registrars, retainers and locums were almost unchanged - falling fractionally from 27,396 to 27,386 between June and September.

Numbers of FTE partners, however, continued to fall rapidly over the period - slumping by more than 4% from 19,576 to 19,342. In headcount terms, the number of partners also fell by more than 200 - dropping 3.7% from 22,285 to 22,074. Findings from a major independent review commissioned by the government to revitalise the partnership model are due at the end of this year.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'It is good news to see GP numbers rising after such a steep decline in recent years – and these figures, albeit provisional, show that we have over 40 more FTE GPs delivering care in the community than this time last year.

'The trajectory is on the up. We now need to see this momentum sustained and accelerated, so that we have the sufficient numbers of GPs we need in the future.

Workforce

'We applaud the efforts by NHS England and Health Education England that have gone into encouraging medical students to choose general practice, something the college has been heavily involved in, and we now have more GPs in training than ever before.

'But it takes a long time to train a GP and we still need to see urgent initiatives implemented to retain our existing GPs, and to address the unsustainable workload family doctors and our teams are facing on a daily basis.'

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock revealed earlier this year that the number of GP trainees recruited in 2018 had hit a record level after exceeding the target set for the NHS.

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