Full-time GP workforce fell by nearly 100 over the past year

The full-time equivalent GP workforce dropped by almost 100 doctors over the past year, official data show, in a blow to government plans to recruit and retain an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020.

In percentage terms the latest data published by NHS Digital show that the GP workforce flatlined between September 2015 and September 2016.

GP leaders said the figures showed that the crisis in general practice was 'getting worse, not better'. The GPC warned that government 'scapegoating' of GPs over the wider NHS crisis would undermine efforts to attract more doctors into the profession, and warned that pledges to increase GP funding must be implemented faster.

There were 34,495 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in September 2016, down 96 from 34,592 a year earlier - a drop of 0.3%.

In headcount terms, the GP workforce fell by 12 from 41,877 to 41,865 - a 0% change.

GP workforce

The figures confirm that the government faces a significant challenge to hit its target of recruiting and retaining an extra 5,000 GPs to boost the general practice workforce by 2020.

Figures published in April 2016 showed that over 2015, the FTE GP workforce fell by 2%.

Across England, 57% of GPs counted by NHS Digital were partners, who are listed as 'providers' in the data. A total of 26% were salaried GPs, and 13% registrars. The figures also list 4% of GPs as locums, although the accuracy of data captured on locums has been questioned by GP leaders.

GPs have also called for a rethink on how the FTE workforce is calculated, and criticised 'double-counting' under the existing methodology.

GP crisis

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'These figures clearly demonstrate that the crisis in general practice is getting worse not better and makes it all the more important that NHS England and the government step up the speed delivery of their commitments to invest in general practice and expand the wider workforce.

'It's also vital that all in government back GPs and their hardworking teams rather than denigrating them, as a failure to do so will just drive away doctors who may aspire to be a GP.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the figures were 'very disappointing to say the least'.

'We are feeling the effects of this on the ground as huge numbers of practices struggle to recruit GPs to fill vacancies, and this is now having a real human impact on our entire practice teams and our patients,' she warned. 'We’re working our hardest – but we are already running on empty and in many cases, working at the absolute limits of what is safe.

'Everything that can be done must be done to reverse this trend. Today’s figures hammer home the urgency for the extra investment in our service and 5,000 more GPs by 2020 promised in NHS England’s GP Forward View, so that we can deliver the care our patients need and stop more GPs becoming burnt out and leaving the profession.'

A DH spokeswoman said: 'These statistics are four months old, and do not take into account the impact of all the actions we have recently taken to achieve our goal of 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020, such as cutting red tape, paying some of GPs’ high insurance costs, increasing resources by £2.4bn, as well as innovative new schemes to retain more GPs. Our latest figures show that we have more GPs in training now than ever before.'

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