GP workforce falling 50% faster in deprived areas, official data show

The GP workforce has fallen 50% faster in the most deprived areas in England than in the wealthiest areas over the past decade, figures published by the government reveal.

Health minister Steve Brine (Photo: parliament.uk)
Health minister Steve Brine (Photo: parliament.uk)

Figures published by health minister Steve Brine earlier this month show that the full-time equivalent (FTE) GP workforce serving the most deprived quintile of the population of England fell by 16.6% in the decade from 2008 to 2017.

This is a 50% greater decline than the 11% drop in the FTE GP workforce caring for the least deprived quintile of the population, analysis by GPonline reveals.

The figures, published in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Frank Field, show how the decline of the GP workforce nationally is disproportionately affecting the most deprived section of the population of England.

Overall, GPonline reported earlier this month that the total FTE GP workforce had fallen 4% in two years from March 2016 to March 2018. Numbers of GPs in partnership roles fell even faster - dropping 6% over the same two-year period.

GP workforce

Despite the faster GP workforce decline for the most deprived quintile of the population, there are still nearly twice as many FTE GPs per head for that group compared with the least deprived quintile.

However, the faster decline in GP numbers for poorer populations is likely to exacerbate existing gaps in quality of care – with CQC ratings for GP practices in more deprived areas already worse than those for practices in affluent areas.

The figures published by Mr Brine show that 6,247 FTE GPs were covering the 10.8m patients in the most deprived quintile of the population in 2017, down 16.6% from 7,487 a decade earlier. For the least deprived quintile of the population, the FTE GP workforce fell 11% from 3,615 to 3,218 over the same period.

Looking at headcount figures, the number of GPs working in the least deprived areas actually rose – up 3.3% over the decade to 4,192 from 4,058. This compares with a 6.2% drop in headcount numbers of GPs in the most deprived quintile from 8,207 to 7,696.

Further analysis of the data reveals that the overall proportion of the FTE GP workforce serving each quintile has remained relatively stable, however. In 2008, the most deprived quintile had 24.4% of the FTE GP workforce, compared with 23.7% in 2017. The least deprived quintile had 11.8% of FTE GPs in 2008, and 12.2% in 2017.

The GP workforce as a whole has continued to drop in recent years despite health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pledge in 2015 to increase the workforce by 5,000 FTE GPs by the end of the decade.

The GPC has warned that falling GP numbers are 'deeply concerning' and called for investment to ease pressure on general practice.

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