The number of fully qualified full-time equivalent GPs dropped by 2.5% from March 2019 to March 2020, the latest official figures show.
The data released by NHS Digital today shows there were 27,985 FTE GPs on 31 March 2020 – 712 fewer than 31 March 2019. The total number of GPs also decreased by 0.6%.
NHS Digital said that its data had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but added: ’We believe that the headline figures included in the bulletin remain of immediate use, even when balanced against these data quality considerations.’
The new report shows an 8.9% increase in FTE ’direct patient care staff’, up to 14,134 – an increase of 1,158.
The Conservatives pledged to increase GP numbers by 6,000 by 2024/25 in their 2019 election manifesto, having failed to meet the original target of a 5,000 increase from 2015 to 2020.
The latest figures reveal that there are, in fact, 1,400 fewer FTE qualified GPs in March 2020 than there were when the previous health secretary Jeremy Hunt made his pledge in September 2015.
The number of FTE GP partners fell by 5.4% in the year, with the number of salaried GPs increasing by 4.5%.
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee executive team workforce lead, said: ’These figures continue to show a worrying decline in the number of full-time equivalent GPs and GP partners specifically over the last year. In recent months, general practice has rallied around in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, working innovatively to continue providing care to patients, and proving the true value of holistic, person-centred care delivered within communities.
’In a post-Covid world it is imperative that this work is not forgotten and that this value is truly recognised, to ensure this foundation of the NHS is given the freedom and resources it needs to provide high quality care to patients.’
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said: ’It’s very concerning to see the number of full-time equivalent GPs in the profession continues to fall. We had 712 fewer fully-qualified FTE GPs in March than we did a year earlier. These figures show that while attention has been understandably focussed on the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce challenges have not gone away. This must be addressed – policy makers must not forget the promises that have been made for general practice, including 6,000 more FTE GPs, so that we can continue to deliver care to more than a million patients a day.
‘Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen the goodwill of retired GPs returning to support the NHS and we would like to see initiatives introduced to retain these GPs post-pandemic, particularly those who retired early due to undoable workload. During the crisis we’ve seen that general practice functions well without so much bureaucracy, and if this in turn helps keep GPs in the profession then it’s something that should be considered in future plans.’