GP workforce fell by 100 in past six months as 500,000 new patients registered

General practice lost more than 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in the past six months alone while registered patients grew by nearly 500,000, analysis by GPonline reveals.

Door to GP consulting room
GP workforce (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

In November 2021 there were 27,647 fully-qualified FTE GPs in England, down 104 compared with figures for June, data from NHS Digital reveal.

Over the same period, the number of patients registered with general practice in England rose by 478,856 to just over 61.3m - leaving the average FTE GP responsible for 2,218 patients, up 1.2% in just six months.

The BMA's GP committee warned that GPs had been 'stretching themselves thinly' for years, but that this had never been more evident than during the pandemic, with workload continuing to intensify. Deputy chair for England Dr Kieran Sharrock warned that 'doing more with fewer staff is not safe and not sustainable' - and called for long-term solutions to protect an 'exhausted' workforce.

GP workforce

The latest figures highlighting a fall in GP numbers come as MPs urged the government to 'wake up' to the workforce crisis facing the NHS - warning that the crisis pre-dates the pandemic but has been exacerbated by it.

The decline in GP numbers comes at a time when the profession is under intense pressure, with surging demand for appointments, driven in part by long waits for hospital treatment because of the backlog created by COVID-19.

Meanwhile, GPs warned this week that a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant - with more than 183,000 cases confirmed per day on average over the past week - has 'shredded' the general practice workforce, with significant numbers of staff off work and some practices fearing they could be forced to close.

Dr Sharrock said: 'Since September 2015, when the government first pledged to recruit an additional 5,000 GPs, England has lost the equivalent of more than 1,750 full-time, fully-qualified family doctors, with more than 300 being lost in the last year alone.

Unsustainable workload

'This means the remaining GPs are now on average caring for around 300 patients more than they were 2015 and significantly more than GPs in similar countries. For years GPs have been stretching themselves more thinly as the workforce crisis deepens. Never has this been more evident than during the pandemic - and in November practices in England booked a record 34.6m appointments. That’s enough appointments to cover over half the population of England in a single month.'

Dr Sharrock said practices had pulled out all the stops to help deliver the COVID-19 booster and vaccine campaign, and as a result had been forced to reprioritise other care, leaving some patients waiting longer.

He added: 'Unfortunately, we cannot do everything for everyone all of the time. Staff are exhausted, burnt out and putting their own health at risk - which threatens to make the problem far worse. There is then the further impact of absence caused by Omicron in recent weeks - and we cannot afford to lose any more valuable staff at this crucial time.

'In the short term we need to protect staff by providing adequate PPE, ensure access to testing, and lower community COVID-19 transmission to prevent more staff getting sick. In the longer term we need meaningful solutions to the workforce crisis that has blighted general practice for too long.'

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid admitted in November that the government was not on track to deliver its manifesto commitment to increase the GP workforce by 6,000 by 2024. The BMA has urged the government to be 'honest' over the workforce crisis - hitting out at ministers' use of statistics that include trainees to claim that the GP workforce is rising.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

NHS logo on tiled wall

Draft NICE guidance on self-harm updates advice for GPs

Draft NICE guidance calls for patients to receive urgent psychosocial assessment...

GP looking tired

'Running on empty': one in four GPs warn extreme tiredness is affecting patient care

A quarter of GPs say they are regularly sleep deprived at work, while the same proportion...

Syringe extracting COVID-19 vaccine from vial

Thousands of unvaccinated GP staff face dismissal notice from February

Thousands of unvaccinated staff at GP practices could be handed their notice from...

MDU chief executive Dr Matthew Lee

Viewpoint: Tired and overworked GPs need better support

A recent survey has shown that many GPs are burnt out and exhausted. Urgent action...

Pins marking points on a map

Map: Which parts of England have the fastest-rising demand for GP appointments?

GP practices faced a massive increase in workload through 2021 as demand for appointments...

Sign pointing to entrance of COVID-19 vaccination hub

GPs partners subsidising COVID-19 vaccine campaign as bookings drop, GPs warn

GP practices running COVID-19 vaccine clinics may soon be forced to 'chuck in the...