GP leaders warn of workforce crisis as 10% of GPs are over 60

GP leaders have warned of a looming workforce crisis after data showed one in 10 of the profession is over 60 years old and growth in full-time equivalent GPs has flatlined.

Professor Howe: 'We need more training places for GPs and to make sure that we are not training people for specialist roles if they cannot get a job afterwards when there is a need in primary care.'

They called for more GP training places and practice-based allowances to prevent chronic shortages.

Annual data for England published by the NHS Information Centre yesterday show a 0.9% increase in GPs since 2010. The rise in full-time equivalent GPs is just 0.2%.

In London, 18% of GPs are over 60 years old, and 13% are in this group in the West Midlands.

Slow growth in GP numbers from 2010 to 2011 contrasts with a 25% total increase over the decade from 2001 to 2011, which translates into a 22% full-time equivalent GP rise.

Almost all of the growth in GP numbers over that period has come from women, the data show – female GPs are up 66% compared with 0.7% for men. This trend will continue, with women making up 62% of England’s 4,013 registrars.

But they continue to be under-represented among partners - 39% of partners are women although 46% of the workforce is female. A total of 68% of salaried GPs are women.

RCGP honorary secretary Professor Amanda Howe said: ‘Everybody is aware that there are not enough GPs in the system. We need more training places for GPs and to make sure that we are not training people for specialist roles if they cannot get a job afterwards when there is a need in primary care. That is a waste.

‘More GPs are choosing to do locum and sessional work and the college is working to map the problem about a lack of partnerships being offered.’

GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash called for a practice-based allowance to help practices hire more partners, and more women.

‘I am not surprised but very disappointed that the workforce figures have remained static,’ she added. ‘It shows a lack of investment in the GP contract and we are hearing anecdotal evidence that practices are finding it hard to recruit any staff, not just partners.’

Dr McCarron-Nash called for clinical commissioning groups to ensure men and women were represented on their boards.

Meanwhile, the data showed that the average number of patients per GP fell from 1,780 in 2001 to 1,562 in 2011. But ‘the number of patients per practice has grown steadily each year over the past decade, rising from 5,753 to 6,651, reflecting the move towards larger practices employing more GPs’, the report said.

The data show the number of dispensing practices fell by 46 from 2001 to 2011. But they now make up 13.5% of all practices – higher than in 2001, totalling 1,121 in 2011.

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