Exclusive: London GP workforce growing as rest of England stagnates

London swallowed the equivalent of the entire national increase in available GP working hours in the six months to 31 March 2016, analysis of official workforce data by GPonline reveals.

The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in England rose by 323 from 34,592 in September 2015 to 34,914 in March 2016, data published earlier this year by NHS Digital show. The rise equates to just over an extra 12,100 available GP working hours per week.

But analysis of the data by GPonline reveals that over this period, the GP workforce in the London region alone rose by 324 FTE GPs, slightly more than the entire national increase.

GP leaders warned that more needs to be done to incentivise doctors to work in underdoctored areas, and to tackle the growing GP workforce crisis.

GP workforce

The rise in London is equivalent to 12,150 working hours per week, with official statistics counting 37.5 hours as one FTE GP.

Of the 12 NHS regions in September 2015, half saw a rise in their FTE workforce and half saw a decline. At this level, the GPonline analysis shows, changes outside London were relatively limited, with just one other NHS region's FTE GP workforce changing by more than 2%.

The NHS England North (Cumbria and Merseyside) region grew by 2.1%, with 34 extra FTE GPs, while the next-highest increase was in the NHS England North (Yorkshire and Humber) region, which saw an increase of 1.2% - with a rise of 37 FTE GPs. 

By contrast, the NHS England South (South East) region lost 38 FTE GPs - 1.5% of its workforce, while the North Midlands lost 29 FTE GPs, 1.3% of its workforce.

At CCG level, however, swings in FTE GP numbers are more marked, with CCGs seeing up to 20% falls or rises in their workforce over the six-month period assessed.

Nearly one in six CCGs nationally lost more than 5% of their FTE GP workforce, while a similar proportion gained 5% or more.

GP training posts

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the figures mirrored the imbalance in filling of GP training posts revealed last year by GPonline. Analysis of the fill rate for training posts across England in December 2015 found a clear north-south divide.

Dr Vautrey said: 'We have always known there was imbalance between the north and south of England in distribution of GPs, and that problem continues.

'While we have a shortage of GPs it is always going to be difficult to encourage GPs to work in areas where they may not be putting that down as their first choice. GPs will have partners who are also looking for jobs - they may be doctors or other professionals - and they increasingly too will be gravitating towards south-east England, so that will be a pull factor for those looking for general practice posts in that area.'

Incentive schemes had proven successful in some areas, Dr Vautrey said. He called for the extension of incentive schemes to be 'looked at and evaluated'. However, he warned against short-term funding initiatives that may not prove financially sustainable - arguing that practices should not face 'boom and bust'.

He added: 'Ultimately we have to see an increase in the total workforce.'

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged this month to 'bang the drum' for general practice in a bid to persuade young doctors to choose GP careers. Earlier this year he admitted not having done enough to prioritise the GP workforce in his more than four years as health secretary.

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