GP leaders warned the huge drop presented a threat to the future of the NHS, because of its reliance on strong general practice to keep pressure off of the rest of the healthcare system.
The total number of partners in England fell from 24,826 in September 2015 to 22,919 in September 2017, official data published by NHS Digital reveal - a loss of 1,907 partners in just two years. Most of these partners were working full-time, the data suggest, because the loss translates into a 1,703 drop in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) partners.
Overall workforce data suggest that at least some of these partners may have continued to work in the NHS, because the overall FTE GP workforce dropped by a lower figure - around 1,300 in the two years to September 2017.
GP leaders have warned that the rapid drop in numbers of GP partners presents a 'really serious problem' for the NHS.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'I think it is really serious, a reflection of the huge pressures partnerships are under. The workload burden, premises issues and other factors are dissuading salaried and other GPs from taking on partnerships, and hastening the departure of existing partners.
'This is a really serious problem because the fundamental way that NHS general practice operates is through the contractor model. We risk the demise of that at our peril – the whole of the NHS depends on the risk management by practices in their day-to-day work and we know how valued it is among patients.'
Dr Vautrey warned that key issues for general practice around premises and workload need to be addressed by the government.
'The reality is that we need these people who have the ability and the flexibility to manage healthcare in their area. We shouldn’t underestimate the flexibility with which practices can operate if given the resources they need, in a way that many managed systems are not able to do.'
Dr Vautrey pointed out that CQC ratings showed general practice - even under extreme pressure - was continuing to deliver good and outstanding care to a 'far greater extent' than other parts of the healthcare system.
He added: 'The government has acknowledged it has not invested enough, but new investment is yet to go far enough to turn the tide.