In a parliamentary debate following the Queen’s speech on 10 May, MPs from Labour and the Liberal Democrats criticised the government's failure to recruit more GPs and address the workforce crisis.
Latest data from NHS Digital show the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) qualified GPs in England fell to 27,769 in March, a drop of 369 compared with the same time last year.
The data show that England has lost almost 1,600 FTE GPs since former health secretary Jeremy Hunt first pledged to boost the workforce by 5,000 doctors in 2015. The government has since increased that figure to 6,000, but has also admitted it is not on track to meet the target.
During the debate Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey highlighted the impact the GP shortage was having on both patients and staff.
He said: ‘Local health services are at breaking point following the Conservative government’s broken promise to recruit more GPs. People are struggling to get appointments and GPs are under more pressure than ever.’
He added: ’There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to tackle these health crises and nothing for the social care crisis either.’
Labour leader Keir Starmer also highlighted the government’s failure to meet its own recruitment targets. ‘We have a government that went into the pandemic with record waiting lists and have no plan to get them down any time soon; a government that take the public for fools by pretending that refurbishing a wing of a hospital is the same as building a new hospital; a government that cannot hire the GPs they promised or get the GPs we have to see more patients – lost in spin, with no ambition, not up to the challenge of the moment,’ he said.
Conservative MPs also highlighted concerns about the GP shortage. Peter Aldous, the Conservative MP for Waveney, said: ‘People are worried that they cannot see their doctor. The government needs to work with GPs to address that concern.’
Meanwhile, Labour MP Catherine West, the shadow minister for foreign and commonwealth affairs, called on the prime minister to ‘tackle the lack of GP appointments’ and ‘look at the record NHS waiting lists to see doctors and nurses’.
She added: ‘We simply do not have enough health practitioners working in the health service.’
Official data show GPs are now working harder than ever. General practice delivered 4m more appointments in March compared with the previous month. Coupled with the fall in GP numbers, the figures mean that general practice delivered 10% more appointments per FTE fully-qualified GP this March compared with March 2021.
The workforce crisis was one of the key issues raised during this week’s UK LMCs conference in York. The BMA’s UK GP committee chair Dr Phil White called on the four UK government to take steps to address the shortage of GPs in his conference speech.
He said: ‘We have thousands more patients on our practice lists. We regularly break records for numbers of appointments booked and patient contacts. And we have to do all of this with a dwindling workforce and our hands tied behind our back by a lack of resource. If our politicians don’t listen now – when everything we know and understand turns upside down like this – when will they?’