The average number of patients each individual GP is responsible for has increased by 15%, or around 300 people, since 2015, the BMA has said.
This is due to the ‘slow but steady haemorrhaging’ of GPs over the last few years, which has led to pressures on services growing ‘even more acute’, it suggested.
The Association’s statement comes in response to the latest GP workforce data – published by NHS Digital (10 February) – which showed that 188 FTE GPs left between December 2020 and December 2021.
As of December 2021, there were 27,848 fully qualified GPs working in England (excluding GPs in training).
Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said the figures are the direct result of an ‘over-stretched’ and ‘under-resourced’ NHS.
She said: ‘Family doctors, exhausted and disenchanted, feel as though they have no choice but to leave a profession they love because of chronic pressures now made worse by the pandemic. Workload has dramatically increased, there are fewer staff in practices to meet patient needs.’
Growing backlog risks patient safety
Insufficient staffing is particularly concerning as the backlog for care continues to grow, she suggested, with many GPs believing ‘the day job is just no longer safe, sustainable or possible anymore’.
The NHS and the Government must work to retain current staff as its ‘immediate priority’ and must urgently refocus on retention strategies as a key enabler for the NHS’ recovery.
She said: ‘The Government has repeatedly argued that the number of doctors is growing, but this isn’t the reality for general practice, and it begs the question: how many more have to go before something is finally done about it? Our NHS is the people who work in it, and without them, the entire system and provision of patient care is under threat.’
It comes as the Government this week (9 February) revealed its elective care recovery scheme, which is in-part based on the expectation waiting lists will keep growing until 2024.
The health secretary warned that an estimated 10 million people ‘stayed away from the NHS’ during the pandemic, adding that even 50% returning would place ‘huge demand’ on the health service.
Health leaders warned the Government that any attempts to clear the backlog – which now stands at 6 million people – must not inadvertently burden general practice.
Professor Martin Marshall, RCGP chair, urged the DHSC and NHSE to keep general practice ‘central to any discussions and decision-making’ on NHS reform.
‘It’s crucial that any plans to alleviate the backlog in hospitals do not inadvertently push a bigger burden onto general practice, which is already beset by a huge workload and workforce crisis,’ he said.
The Government and NHSE’s plan set out targets to eliminate year-long and two-year waits by March 2025 and July 2022 respectively.