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Fall in GP numbers is “extremely concerning,” says BMA

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2175 (Published 16 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2175
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

The number of full time equivalent GPs in England has fallen by 0.6% in a year, show new figures that the BMA has described as “extremely concerning.”

NHS Digital’s figures showed 32 748 full time equivalent GPs at 31 March 2018 (excluding locum GPs),1 a 0.6% drop from 32 972 in March 2017.2 In August 2017, data had shown an increase of 321 (0.9%) full time equivalent GPs from March to June 2017.3

The total GP headcount also dropped by 0.5% in 2017-18, down from 41 891 at 31 March 2017 to 41 693 at 31 March 2018.

When registrars, retainers, and locums were excluded the figures showed a small increase (0.02%) in headcount of GPs from 34 427 in March 2017 to 34 435 in March 2018. However, when measured as full time equivalent GPs, the data showed a decrease of 1.1%, from 28 092 in March 2017 to 27 773 in March 2018. This could be because of more GPs choosing to work less than full time because of increased workloads.

Commenting on the figures, Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s England GP committee, said, “Despite repeated pledges from the government to increase the GP workforce, it is extremely concerning to see the number of GPs in England falling once again.”

He said that it was two and half years since the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, promised to recruit 5000 more GPs before 2020 and that “these figures are a damning progress report . . . With less than two years until this target date, the trend is clearly going the other way, and it’s a sign that a step change in action needs to be taken.”

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, warned that GP workload was escalating and that GPs were burning out owing to a lack of resources and support.

“We can’t be complacent with recruitment efforts, but retaining our workforce must be the number one priority moving forward, and doing this won’t be possible without tackling GP workload and protecting the health and wellbeing of GPs,” she said. “Ultimately, we need NHS England’s GP Forward View—including pledges of £2.4bn [€2.75bn; $3.24bn] extra a year for general practice, 5000 more GPs, and 5000 more practice team members—to be delivered in full and as a matter of urgency, or else the future of our profession, and the NHS as a whole, is bleak.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said, “We are committed to meeting our objective of recruiting an extra 5000 GPs by 2020. This is an ambitious target and shows our commitment to growing a strong and sustainable general practice for the future.

“More than 3000 GPs have entered training this year, 1500 new medical school places are being made available by 2019, and NHS England plans to recruit an extra 2000 overseas doctors in the next three years.”

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