Government blamed for loss of 4,500 GPs in a decade

England has lost around 4,500 GPs over the past decade and 300 GP practices have closed since the 2019 general election, according to an analysis of NHS data by the Labour party.

Prime minister Boris Johnson
Prime minister Boris Johnson (Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The warning over the drop in GP numbers comes nearly a month after the BMA warned that time was 'running out' to reverse the sustained decline - after NHS Digital figures for April showed that the full-time equivalent (FTE), fully qualified workforce had dropped to 27,743.

NHS Digital data publishes comparable data on the GP workforce going back to September 2015, the baseline for former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt's failed promise to boost GP numbers by 5,000.

Between September 2015 and April 2022, the FTE fully qualified GP workforce has dropped by 1,622 - a 6% fall.

GP workforce

The Labour party said its analysis of NHS data showed a drop of 4,500 GPs between 2013 and now - blaming the slump on 'a decade of Tory mismanagement of the NHS'.

The opposition party highlighted the Conservatives' manifesto promise to increase GP numbers by 6,000 by 2024 - a promise health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has admitted the party is not on track to deliver.

Labour said 'more than 300 GP practices have closed' since the 2019 general election. The claim comes after GPonline analysis this week revealed that a fifth of GP practices open at the time when NHS England became operational in April 2013 have since closed or merged, reducing practice numbers by more than 1,600.

The Labour party has called for a debate in parliament on 'the crisis in primary care in Britain' - with a motion calling on the health and social care secretary to produce a plan to recruit doctors promised at the last election.

GP appointments

Despite a workforce in steady decline and further pressure from widespread staff absences due to COVID-19, general practice in England delivered an unprecedented 367m appointments in 2021.

However, Labour shadow health and social care secretary Wes Streeting said general practice was struggling to meet demand: 'People are finding it impossible to get a GP appointment when they need one, leaving them in pain and discomfort and meaning serious conditions will be missed. Now the Conservatives are breaking their promise to hire the GPs we need.'

BMA GP committee workforce policy lead Dr Samira Anane said: 'This analysis underlines the historic and continuing workforce crisis in general practice, and the impact it has both on patients and the remaining family doctors struggling with unprecedented demand and unsustainable workloads.

'When the loss of such a huge number of GPs is combined with millions more patients, the result is that people find it harder to be seen quickly, while staff working in practices push themselves to the limits to meet demand, risking burnout and pushing more doctors towards leaving.

Recruitment and retention

'As we’ve been saying for years we urgently need to recruit more GPs, but also crucially to keep hold of the highly skilled clinicians we already have by supporting the profession, removing bureaucracy and addressing punitive pension rules that are driving doctors away too early.'

The continued decline in the GP workforce comes as intense pressure and concern over factors such as punitive pension taxation continue to drive record numbers of early retirements, and amid warnings that many of the current cohort of GP trainees will struggle to work in the UK unless the government offers more support with visas and immigration status.

Soaring inflation is set to leave large numbers of GPs facing heavy pension tax penalties even if their current income is low, and both numbers of people claiming their NHS pension for the first time and the number of early retirements hit record levels earlier this year.

The RCGP has warned that large numbers of GP trainees who are international medical graduates may be forced out of the UK workforce because they do not qualify for indefinite leave to remain once they have qualified - but its warning drew a dismissive response from the Home Office, which accused the college of 'scaremongering'.

The DHSC has been approached for comment.

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