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21.11.17

GP numbers drop by 1,000 over the last year as pressure and cash concerns rise

GP numbers have fallen by around 1,200 in the last year despite the government’s pledge in 2015 to bring in another 5,000 practitioners.

Official figures from NHS Digital show a 3.5% fall since September 2016 – from 34,495 full-time equivalent GPs to 33,302 in September this year.

High pressure and low funding to the health sector are being blamed for the drop, as concerns rise among fears a fifth of GPs could leave after Brexit.

NHS Digital also warns this overall figure is artificially inflated by changes in how numbers are reported which saw the figure increase by 300.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said staff were “gravely concerned” by the numbers and were desperate for progress to be made.

“We understand that change takes time, but we desperately need more family doctors, and we need them sooner rather than later,” she commented.

“We had hoped that at this stage of NHS England's GP Forward View being implemented, we would be seeing more progress. Workload in general practice has increased by at least 16% over the last seven years, but the number of GPs delivering care to patients has not risen in step.

“Despite GPs and our teams working hard to deliver more and more consultations, patients continue to wait longer for appointments. This paradox is being seen in GP surgeries across the country, every day, while we work to deliver the vast majority of patient care across the NHS.”

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, the BMA GP England Executive Team lead on workforce issues, was also concerned about the fall in numbers but said the answers was through government cooperation with medical associations.

He 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.”

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