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Doctors slam government for more disappointing GP staffing cuts

Doctors’ groups have today slammed the government for its failure to increase the GP workforce as NHS Digital figures revealed that numbers were still failing to keep up with targets.

Estimates for March 2017 found that there was a total of 40,039 GPs in England excluding locums, which was a drop of 658 from 18 months before, when the number stood at 40,697.

The total number of GPs in England did go up from 41,877 to 42,259 – but this is not a big enough rise to achieve the ambition of the GP FYFV of creating 5,000 more GPs by 2020.  

These figures have been described by two key doctors’ organisations as demonstrating the failure of politicians to deliver the necessary numbers needed to provide a sustainable health service.

Both groups have come together to call on the next government to improve GP numbers as an immediate matter of urgency, as patient safety was now allegedly being put at risk due to a lack of staff.

“These figures demonstrate the failure of politicians to uphold their pledges to deliver the GPs necessary to provide the number of appointments and sustainable service that patients deserve,” said Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP education, training and workforce lead. 

“The overall number of GPs working in England has dropped since 2015, which leaves the NHS a considerable distance short of the current targets for the GP workforce. There is little prospect of the promised 5,000 additional GPs materialising anytime soon.”

Kasaraneni added that this continued “workforce crisis” has left many GP practices unable to properly staff their surgeries at a time when local services are struggling to cope with rising demand and flatlining budgets.

“The next government must ensure that we have a properly staffed service that can meet the needs of patients,” he added.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, also criticised the fact that it was difficult to compare these figures with those taken from last year due to changes in the way data was collected. Being able to compare data would be essential to track progress being made on the GP Forward View, she argued.

“Of course any rise in GP numbers is encouraging, and we are seeing a small rise since the last figures in December – but we are still way off GP Forward View target, and indeed since September last year these figures show a drop of 381 GPs, which is a serious concern,” she explained.

“Workload in general practice is soaring – 16% over the last seven years according to the latest research – yet our workforce has not risen in step, and is now actually reducing. This isn’t acceptable.

“The new government, whatever it looks like, must prioritise the recruitment of new GPs, the retention of existing GPs and make it easier for qualified GPs to return to the profession after a career break if we are to continue delivering the care our patients need and deserve.”

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