GMC register shows 20% rise in GP numbers over past decade

Numbers of GPs registered in the UK have surged by 20% over the past decade to more than 70,000, the GMC has said.

There are currently 70,151 GPs registered in the UK - 20% more than 10 years ago and almost 30% more than in 2006, when the GP register was created.

Overall, there are now 300,040 registered doctors in the UK - and the GMC says it is seeing a ‘rise in registered doctor numbers larger than the growth of the UK population’ with a 2.7% increase in 2016/17 and 3% in 2017/18.

Women account for 54% of registered GPs and 46% of doctors across the UK medical register as a whole.

The GMC says the makeup of doctors in the UK has become ‘increasingly diverse’, with around a third of all registrants identifying as black and minority ethnic (BME). Among GPs, 25% identify as BME, 56% as white and 18% are of unknown ethnicity.

According to the GMC figures, around four in 10 doctors obtained their medical degree in the EEA or overseas.

GP workforce

The 300,000-doctor milestone has been surpassed just under two decades after the number of UK doctors reached the 200,000 mark for the first time. Meanwhile, the number of doctors on the GP register has grown every year since its inception - reaching 70,000 for the first time in 2018.

However, the number of GPs on the registered list is not necessarily representative of the number of GPs working in full-time general practice.

Despite the growing number of registered GPs, a report by the Health Foundation, the King's Fund and the Nuffield Trust, published in March, said that the health service in England currently has 'more than 2,500 fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs than it needs'.

GP workforce figures published earlier this year showed that the overall number of FTE GPs fell by 27 during 2018, despite government efforts to recruit 5,000 more GPs over the past three and a half years. The number of fully-qualified FTE GPs, excluding registrars, showed a more dramatic drop of almost 600 doctors (2%) from 29,190 in 2017 to 28,596 at the end of 2018.

Una Lane, director of registration and revalidation at the GMC said: ‘Medicine is a fantastic career and the UK is fortunate to have so many talented, hard-working doctors treating patients here every day. Today we have more doctors than ever providing that care but we know that they are working in a system under pressure as they struggle to meet increased demand and the needs of an ageing population.

‘As the medical regulator, we will continue to play our part in ensuring that the UK has the medical workforce it needs to respond to the needs of patients and we will continue to support doctors in providing high quality care to patients across all four countries of the UK.’

GP burnout

The GMC figures come in the same week as a BBC Panorama documentary highlighting the pressures facing GPs in the UK. Analysis by the Nuffield Trust for the BBC has shown the number of GPs per 100,000 people has fallen from nearly 65 in 2014 to 60 last year.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard described the Nuffield Trust figures as ‘disheartening but unsurprising’.

‘There is some excellent work ongoing to boost recruitment into general practice and as a result we have more GPs in training that ever before,’ she said. ‘But GPs cannot be trained overnight, and whilst we wait for the next generation of family doctors to enter the workforce, existing GPs and our teams are struggling to manage escalating workloads without enough time or the resources to deal with them.’

She added: ‘Demand for GP services is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity – and when this is compounded by falling GP numbers, it creates a perfect storm that is leading to GPs becoming stressed and burning out, and in many cases leaving NHS general practice far earlier than they might otherwise have done.

‘More must be done to keep our hard-working, experienced GPs in the profession for longer – not only are they vital to delivering vital care to over a million patients a day, but they have a huge amount of wisdom to impart to new colleagues.’

The Panorama documentary GPs: Why Can’t I Get an Appointment? is available on BBC iPlayer.

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