The total headcount number of GP partners working in England in December 2018 was 21,620, down 12% from 24,521 in September 2015 - the date when former health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised a major expansion of the GP workforce, a pledge his successor has rowed back from.
Further figures due later this week are likely to confirm that the drop in GP partners since the September 2015 benchmark is now in excess of 3,000 - with GP partner numbers continuing to drop steadily according to updates over the past year.
The rapid loss of partners reflects growing pressure on the general practice workforce - with doctors increasingly stepping away from partnership roles to escape unmanageable workload. But the exodus of partners will have a disproportionate effect on capacity in general practice - although less than half of GPs were partners in December 2018 in headcount terms, a total of 55% of the full-time equivalent workforce were partners.
Analysis by GPonline shows that the problem is particularly acute in some parts of England. Eight CCGs have lost more than one in four of their GP partners since September 2015 - with south-east England and the north of England among the hardest-hit areas.
GP partner numbers fell in 178 out of 195 CCG areas in England over the period, with just 12 CCGs able to buck the trend with an increase in partner numbers.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'The significant fall in the number of GP partners is a big concern and why we lobbied government and NHS England to commission a GP partnership review. We have not yet had a formal response from government to the review, which we need to see, but many of the recommendations were taken forward as part of contract negotiations.
'We also need to see the outcome of the premises review as dealing with the serious concerns many GPs have about the risks of premises ownership and long-term leases is also a fundamental factor that has to be addressed to encourage more doctors to become or remain as partners. Government must also listen and act on the punitive pensions problems facing many GPs.
'However ultimately it’s tackling the workload pressures carried by partners that has to be addressed and the planned workforce expansion cannot come soon enough to help share some of this burden.'
Findings from the review of GP partnerships published in January called on the government to tackle punitive tax on pensions that has forced many doctors to reduce their working hours, and for the introduction of limited liability models to reduce personal risk for doctors taking on GP partnerships.
GPonline revealed earlier this month that pension taxes had forced one in three GPs to cut back their working hours or refuse shifts.