Workforce data reveal 40% difference in GPs per patient between English regions

The most underdoctored English regions have up to 40% fewer GPs per patient than areas with the strongest primary care workforce, official data reveal.

Across England as a whole there are 1,364 patients per GP, according to experimental statistics published on Tuesday by NHS DIgital.

But variation between regions is marked. In North Central and East London (NCEL) - which has the most GPs per patient - each primary care doctor looks after 1,122 patients on average, while in the East Midlands there are 1,572 patients per GP - 40% more than the NCEL total.

The figures also reveal slow growth in GP numbers over the past six months. Total full-time equivalent GP numbers in England rose 323 to 34,914 from 30 September 2015 to 31 March 2016, the data show. But excluding registrars, retainers and locums, the rise was just 65.

GP workforce

Earlier this year, official data revealed that in 2015 the full-time GP workforce declined by 2%, and this month the RCGP warned that 600 practices could be forced to close by 2020 because England faces a shortfall of 10,000 GPs by that year.

North West London and Kent, Surrey and Sussex have more than 1,500 patients per GP - among the highest in England.

By contrast, the South London and South West NHS regions have 1,259 and 1,226 patients per GP, putting them among areas with the highest numbers of GPs per patient.

Headcount data show that the South West region has the highest number of GPs, excluding registrars, retainers and locums, per 100,000 population at 73.

NHS England Midlands and East (Central Midlands) has the lowest number of GPs per 100,000 patients, at 59.1.

Primary care team

Data on the wider primary care team suggest that in many areas with the least GPs per patient, practices are employing more nurses and other staff to fill the gap.

Practices in North Central and East London, where GP numbers per patient are highest, employ the lowest average number of nurses per patient of any region, with just 32 per 100,000 patients.

In the East Midlands, where there are most patients per GP, practices employ 44.6 nurses on average per 100,000 patients - among the highest in England.

But the data reveal that the South West - top for GP numbers per patient - is also top for nurse numbers per 100,000 patient, and for other 'direct care' staff - a category that includes healthcare associates, dispensers and phlebotomists.

A DH spokeswoman said: 'We now have 323 extra full-time equivalent GPs in our general practice workforce— and it's good to see that the numbers are going in the right direction.

'We know there is more work to be done- that's why we have boosted GP funding by £2.4bn through the GP Forward View, and we will continue our drive to recruit and retain more GPs.'

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