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RCGP: Drop in GP numbers a ‘huge blow’ to Forward View

Figures released by NHS Digital that reveal a drop in the number of GPs over the last year are a “huge blow,” to ambitions to grow the NHS’s workforce, two doctors’ unions have today warned.

In the data, it was revealed that the number of practicing GPs in England had dropped from 34,914 to 34,495 from March 2016 to September 2016 – a drop of over 400 GPs.

Now two groups, the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of GPs (RGCP) have stated that this is further evidence of a worsening crisis in general practice that needs to be addressed by NHS England, which has set targets of increasing GP numbers in England by 5,000 by 2020.

Dr Krishna Kararaneni, BMA education training and workforce GP lead, said that the figures underline how far the NHS was from meeting government targets as the one-year anniversary of the GP Forward View is fast approaching.

“Despite the constant promises from ministers that the GP workforce would be increased by 5,000, the number of full time GPs has fallen once again while the overall number has stagnated,” Dr Kararaneni stated. “While there have been encouraging increases in other healthcare professionals in general practice, what we really need are GPs who can deliver more appointments and other front line services to meet rising patient demand.”

The BMA lead also said that the triggering of Article 50 would also deepen the crisis further as uncertainty over the right to work was cast over GPs working in England from the EU.

“With almost half of the 10,000 EEA doctors working in the NHS considering leaving the UK because of the referendum result this could further reduce the number of GPs delivering care in the NHS2,” said Dr Krishna Kararaneni.

The NHS is at breaking point and it is not acceptable for this recruitment and retention crisis to be allowed to get worse.

“It is time for the government to act urgently to implement the GP Forward View with its pledge to deliver a long term, sustainable plan for a well-resourced and appropriately staffed general practice.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, agreed that the figures will be hugely disappointing to health leaders in the UK.

“These figures are a huge blow,” she said, “especially considering the recent efforts we know have gone into building the GP workforce.

“We must be careful when comparing these with previous figures as there is no direct comparison group available – but at face value a drop of over 400 full-time equivalent GPs based on figures to December is dreadful when we so desperately need thousands more in order to cope with ever-growing patient demand. We need to turn the tide.”

Prof Stokes-Lampard also said that the future of the health service and patient care relied on a robust general practice, with enough GPs to deliver the care and services our patients need.

“It is clear that current efforts to recruit more GPs and make general practice an attractive profession must be stepped up further and we will continue to work with Health Education England and others to help wherever we can,” she said.

However, the RCGP chair added that the GP Five Year Forward View was still a target that was achievable and worth working towards.

“A key pledge in NHS England’s GP Forward View was to deliver 5,000 more full-time equivalent GPs and 5,000 other primary care professionals by 2020,” she said. “Despite today’s figures being incredibly disappointing, this remains a goal worth fighting for, and we all must redouble our efforts to achieve it.”

A DH spokesperson said: "GPs are the absolute bedrock of the health service and we remain committed to an extra 5000 doctors in general practice by 2020.

"We have made important strides over the last year to improve conditions to attract more GPs- such as paying a large amount of GP indemnity costs, cutting red tape, agreeing a new contract with their union to deliver a 1% pay rise, as well as bringing in new schemes to help GPs work more flexibly towards retirement.

"We currently have the highest number of GPs in training than ever before, and we know that it will take time for this to impact on GP workforce numbers.

"We will also take strong action to make sure the almost 600 practices who have not yet reported their workforce numbers do so.”

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