England lost 441 fully-qualified GPs over the past financial year

The fully-qualified GP workforce in England fell by 441 over the past financial year, official figures show.

GP workforce (Photo: Alistair Berg/Getty Images)
GP workforce (Photo: Alistair Berg/Getty Images)

Overall, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in England rose slightly from 34,424 in March 2018 to 34,736 in March 2019, according to figures published by NHS Digital.

But these overall figures are inflated by the inclusion of GP registrars, whose FTE numbers rose by more than 14% over the past year to just over 6,000.

Once registrars are stripped out, the figures reveal that the number of fully-qualified, FTE GPs in England fell from 29,190 in March 2018 to 28,697 - a drop of 441, or around 2%.

GP workforce

The steepest decline among GP types is among partners, with the FTE number of GP partners falling by almost 1,000 in the year to March 2019, from 19,812 to 18,933. GPonline revealed earlier this week that the total headcount number of GP partners in England had fallen by almost 3,000 since September 2015.

However, the figures also offer some potentially positive signs for the GP workforce. Despite the decline in partners, FTE numbers of salaried GPs rose by around 400 over the past year - suggesting that some partners may not be leaving the workforce altogether.

Meanwhile, over the three-month period from December 2018 to March 2019, the number of FTE fully qualified GPs rose by 101. In the same period, salaried GP numbers were up, registrar numbers were up and numbers of GP retainers were up - contributing to a marked rise in the overall FTE workforce from 34,510 in December 2018 to 34,736 in March this year.

GPC executive team member Dr Krishna Kasaraneni told GPonline that despite some positive signs for the workforce in recent months, the trend over the past year or two remained negative. He warned that general practice needed to see a sustained rise in fully-qualified GP numbers - and in the wider primary care workforce -to ease pressure.

Workload

'The general trend is still a negative one, despite the odd quarter where GP numbers have increased,' he said. 'GPs aren't leaving because they want to - but because the workload is out of control. The only way to fix that is to increase the wider team, and improve GP recruitment and retention.'

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'These figures do show a recent rise in overall GP numbers, including those in training, but it is nowhere near sufficient to deal with the reality of what is needed to address the crisis facing general practice.

'The steady increase in patient demand coupled with hundreds fewer FTE GPs means that practices across the country are being placed under tremendous pressure and leaving too many patients waiting too long to see their GP.'

Heavy pressure on the GP workforce has been exacerbated by doctors leaving the workforce or reducing their working hours to avoid punitive taxes on pension contributions - with the BMA reporting that even GPs in their 30s have been advised by accountants to reduce their working hours.

Chancellor Philip Hammond told MPs earlier this month that talks between government ministers on how to address the problem were close to a conclusion.

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