Primary care in England now has 7,302 more full time equivalent (FTE) health professionals than three years ago, NHS Digital has revealed.
This exceeds the 2016 GP Forward View target to recruit an additional 5,000 health professionals into the sector by 2020.
General practice workforce figures published by NHS Digital last week (30 May) showed an increase of 2,635 (2%) FTE staff in England between March 2018 and 2019 and 703 (0.5%) over the previous quarter.
While FTE GPs saw a 0.9% rise over the year, to 34,736, the data revealed that the number of fully-qualified GPs in England has fallen by 441 (1.5%) over the past year and there are 3.6% fewer GP partners.
Non-GP FTE staff is also up 2,324 since March 2018 and 477 over the last quarter, according to NHS Digital.
There was a 38.6% increase in FTE clinical pharmacists working in general practice between March 2018 and 2019 – from 742 to 1,029.
FTE physician associates saw a 128.6% increase in general practice from 70 to 167 in the same time period, while FTE nursing numbers grew by 313 (2%) from 16,170 to 16,483.
In March, Management in Practice reported that practice managers are positive about the potential of easing the pressures in general practice by incorporating a wide range of professions into the team.
Interim medical director for primary care at NHS England Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘While the GP numbers show some encouraging signs, recruiting, retaining and supporting more doctors into practice remains an absolute priority for us.
‘Today’s figures highlight the good work being done locally to support GPs through retention schemes and flexible working, as well as taking on more trainees.’
She added: ‘A significant increase in the number of other health professionals such as nurses, pharmacists and physicians that work alongside GPs means patients can get more timely and appropriate access to a wider range of highly trained staff.
‘This supports family doctors to focus on patients with the most complex conditions and eases the workload pressures our GPs face.’
As part of the new five-year GP contract, practices will be provided with extra funding to join primary care networks (PCNs), which will see groups of practices with multidisciplinary teams serve between 30,0000 and 50,000 patients based on geography.
Funding will be provided for 22,000 more staff including pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics, physician associates and social prescribing link workers so that GP practices can work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals within PCNs.