The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in England fell by 0.8% in the last quarter alone, according to data from NHS Digital, dropping from 33,560 to 33,302 between June and September 2017.
Over the two years from March 2015 to March 2017, the number of FTE GPS in England dropped from 34,592 to 33,302 - a drop of 3.7%.
The latest drop in GP numbers continues a consistent pattern of decline in the primary care workforce since March 2016 - when FTE GP numbers rose to 34,914 - a figure more than 1,600 higher than the current workforce.
The latest official data on the GP workforce demonstrate again the huge scale of the task facing health secretary Jeremy Hunt if he is to hit the government's target of increasing GP numbers by 5,000 by 2020/21.
GP workforce in decline
The health secretary repeated his commitment to the 5,000-GP target at the RCGP annual conference last month. Mr Hunt has previously admitted failing to prioritise building the GP workforce sufficiently during his more than five-year spell as health secretary, but responded angrily to a GP at the RCGP conference who asked why the profession should believe his claims that he was committed to tackling the crisis facing general practice.
Responding to the latest workforce figures, GPC England workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said: 'The BMA has successfully lobbied the government to invest more in general practice, with £500m of recurrent, extra funding guaranteed in talks earlier this year to help alleviate the pressures on overstretched GP services.
'But general practice still faces a stark workforce crisis with too many GPs retiring early and too few entering the profession, leaving many GP practices struggling, despite their best efforts, to provide enough appointments to patients. This latest fall in GP numbers demonstrates that the government needs to work with organisations like the BMA to ensure we have a coherent workforce plan that gives GP services the capacity to meet rising levels of patient demand.'
Ageing GP workforce
After the slight rise in FTE GP numbers in March 2016, the latest data from NHS Digital reveal that over an 18-month period the workforce has fallen at an alarming rate - dropping by between roughly 200 and 400 every three months.
In headcount terms, the number of GPs in England has dropped by 553 from September 2015 to September 2017, and by 240 over the past three months alone after fluctuating over the two-year period.
The figures also reveal a sharp rise over the past two years in the proportion of GPs aged over 55. Nearly one in five GPs - 19% were aged over 55 across England in September 2017 compared with 16% in September 2015.