GPs face new recruitment crisis

GP recruitment looks to be heading for a new crisis after registrar numbers in England plummeted by 11 per cent last year.

Among men, the fall was even steeper at 14 per cent.

Even among women, who now make up three-fifths of the registrar workforce, the number of registrars fell by 9 per cent in the year to September 2006.

At the same time, the numbers of GPs joining the profession slackened, with GP numbers increasing by over 1 per cent in 2006. The figures were published last week by the Information Centre for Health and Social Care.

Dr Andrew Thomson, chairman of the BMA’s registrars subcommittee, said it was a worrying trend.

‘In a short period we will be very short of GPs,’ he said.

Last year’s NHS workforce statistics revealed that there were only 2,278 GP registrars in 2006 compared with 2,564 in 2005.

The drop was caused by cuts in the training budgets for deaneries. Whether funding to restore numbers will be returned to the deaneries remains uncertain.

At the National GP Recruitment Office, indicative numbers of ST1 vacancies for this year’s August intake in England  total 2,020 with a total of 3,076 for all ST1, ST2 and ST3 vacancies.

The workforce figures also showed that fewer young GPs are committing to the profession, creating an ageing workforce.

In 1996, GPs in their thirties made up more than one third of the profession, but by last year their number in this age group had fallen by over 1,300. They now constitute just 24 per cent of the workforce.

Meanwhile, more than one in five GPs is now aged over 55.

The statistics do not adjust for more part-time working in an increasingly female workforce — 41 per cent of GPs are now women — but this will exacerbate the effects of the decrease in headcount numbers of younger GPs.

Other figures showed the number of GPs increased by 1 per cent to just over 33,000.

The growth rate of GPs in England has slowed in the past year from 1.8 per cent to 1.1 per cent. GP practice staff increased from 72,990 full-time equivalents in 2005 to 76,977 in 2006.

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