NHS on course for shortfall of 11,000 GPs within a decade

One in four GP and practice nurse posts will be vacant within a decade without a rapid change in government policy, researchers have warned.

Consulting room door
(Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

Current and future workforce shortages in general practice 'pose a significant risk to the quality of healthcare', according to research published by the Health Foundation think tank.

England's GP workforce is currently estimated to be around 4,200 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs short of the level required - and the study predicts this shortfall will rise to around 10,700 by 2030/31.

The practice nurse workforce is estimated to be short of the number needed by around 1,700 FTE staff currently - and the study predicts this will rise to around 6,400 over the next decade.

GP workforce

The shortfall would leave England's GP and practice nurse workforces short by a quarter of the level needed to deliver pre-pandemic standards of care, the Health Foundation study says.

The study warns that the government is unlikely to reach its target of hiring 6,000 extra FTE GPs by 2024 - a fact that health and social care secretary Sajid Javid has already admitted.

Instead, it projects that the number of 'qualified, permanent GPs' will fall by around 1,000 by 2023/24 compared with 2018/19 levels - and that any increase in numbers of 'doctors working in general practice' will rely on including significant numbers of trainees.

While effective integration of health professionals such as pharmacists and physiotherapists could help reduce pressure on GPs, the study highlights that short-term demands on GPs are likely to increase rather than decrease with increased supervision and management needed for these staff.

Growing shortage

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre, said: ‘England's GP services are under huge pressure. It’s sobering that over the next decade things are set to get worse, not better, with a growing shortage of GPs and practice nurses.'

She added: ‘While these issues are not unique to England, it is critical that government takes action to protect general practice and avoid it getting locked in a vicious cycle of rising workload driving staff to leave, in turn creating more pressure on remaining staff and fueling even more departures. It must also be clear with the public that the way they access general practice will need to change.’

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘These findings from the Health Foundation make for bleak but unfortunately familiar reading – they show that the government must act to mitigate these projections, and ensure their worst-case scenario projections do not become a reality, which would be a disaster for patient care and the NHS as a whole.

‘GPs and our teams have been working under intense workload and workforce pressures for many years, but the pandemic has exacerbated these pressures. More consultations are being made every month in general practice than before the pandemic, and the care being delivered is increasingly complex. Yet, although recruitment efforts mean more GPs are in training than ever before, numbers of fully trained, full-time equivalent GPs are falling.'

The Health Foundation study comes just a week after the RCGP warned that a staggering 19,000 GPs could quit the profession over the coming five years.

Meanwhile, the BMA has repeatedly accused the government of misleading claims over the general practice workforce.

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