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NHS Digital criticised for change to GP workforce stats methodology

by Jess Hacker
6 August 2021

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NHS Digital’s new method for collecting data for quarterly GP workforce data ‘fails to reflect the reality’ of the current staffing crises in primary care, the BMA has said.

When publishing its latest dataset (5 August), NHS Digital noted key changes to how it collects data, including the removal of some estimated data.

However, the BMA has said this change is a ‘clear’ attempt to ‘obscure the reality’.

Responding to the dataset, Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC chair at the BMA, said that the new methodology means NHS Digital will no longer include data intended to accommodate for practices who upload partial or no workforce figures.

‘As a result, this makes it look like the decrease in the GP workforce is less than the actual reality shown across previous datasets,’ he said.

Dr Vautrey cited as an example that the new data suggests that the fully-qualified FTE GP workforce has shrunk by 363 since September 2015, despite only 88% of practices providing data in 2015 compared to nearly 100% in the most recent set.

He said: ‘This means that the number of doctors we’ve lost over that period is significantly higher than what is being presented, and the data therefore does not accurately depict the extent of the staffing crisis in general practice.’

Dr Vautrey said the ‘data release is now less accurate and simply doesn’t capture what we know to be happening on the ground’, adding that the workforce crises has been ‘at the centre’ of GP pressures for over a decade.

He added that the NHS cannot improve ‘without understanding the extent of the problem’, stating that NHS Digital must be allowed to revert to its original methodology urgently.

‘We’re already losing talented, experienced GPs to the workforce crisis – attempting to gaslight them into believing it’s not real is only going to drive more away.’

This comes as general practice reaches the end of the first two phases of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The latest appointments data shows that GP sites delivered 4.2 million vaccines in June, while also providing 26.7 million other appointments of which 15 million took place face-to-face.

Nearly 35,000 FTE GPs

The headline statistics from the report indicate that the number of FTE GPs working in June 2021 is 4.2% higher than in June 2020, at 34,726.

It also showed that 69,621 FTE admin and non-clinical staff were working in June of this year.

An NHS Digital spokesperson said: ‘NHS Digital is the trusted data provider for the NHS in England. We publish data in a clear and impartial way to provide the best possible insights to improve health and care services.

‘We have worked in close partnership with stakeholders in order to refine our methodology for the GP workforce statistics. This has included removing historic estimates of workforce numbers to improve accuracy.

‘We are committed to continuously improving our data services and to supporting GP practices to provide high-quality, reliable data to further enhance the completeness of the GP workforce statistics.’