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Feature Workforce Planning

Are millennial GPs shunning full time working?

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 27 June 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j3059

Even if more GPs are part time, the newspapers are wrong to suggest that they are sidestepping their duties, finds Anne Gulland

Ian Cumming, chief executive of Health Education England, which manages the training of the NHS’s workforce, hit the headlines earlier this month.1 He told the NHS Confederation conference that millennial GPs—doctors born between the late 1980s and the early 2000s—were increasingly unwilling to work full time. Cumming’s comments were seized on by the national press, which was keen to tap into an easy stereotype of a generation willing to shirk its responsibilities.

Finger pointing newspaper headlines aside, Cumming had used data that seemed to back up his assertions: according to figures from NHS Digital, which provides clinicians and commissioners with data on the NHS, 90% of GPs worked full time in 2009 compared with 83% in 2016. However, when contacted by The BMJ, NHS Digital pointed out that the way workforce data are collected changed in 2015, so the figures could not be compared directly.

Between 2015 and 2016 the number of full time GPs fell slightly in England, from 40 697 to 40 490. The number working full time fell from 34 055 to 33 804, meaning that roughly the same proportion (83%) of the workforce worked full time in 2015 and 2016.

Extracontractual work

GPs’ work is counted in sessions, with one session lasting three to four hours. Sessions only include time with patients, so it is unlikely that a GP would do any more than eight sessions a week because they would struggle to fit in their extracontractual work, such as administration.

A 2016 King’s Fund report2 featured case studies of staff at four general practices in England and found that few GPs were doing patient facing work full time. This was true of both male and female …

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