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Practice Workforce Data shows worrying 5-year decline in GP Partners

The GP workforce grew by 0.4% in the year to March 2021, but the number of GP partners has dropped and the workforce is not growing quickly enough to meet demand, latest official figures show.

Last week NHS Digital published the latest GP workforce data which showed show that in March 2021 there were 28,096 full-time equivalent (FTE) fully-qualified GPs in England - an increase of 111 on the 27,985 that were in post at the same time a year ago.

However, the number of FTE partners has fallen by 5% over the same period from 17,910 in March 2020 to 17,003 in March 2021.

The number of GP Partners has been showing a steady decline as the government still maintains it is aiming to recruit 5,000 more GPs (there were 21,546 GP Partners in March 2016). Despite the increase shown in this data, the number of full-time GPs still falls well below the totals from September 2015, when former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made his promise to ramp up recruitment within 5 years.

The ‘All Practice Staff’ figures showed there was an increase on last year’s figures by 2.3%, going up to 137,290. Further analysis indicates that other associated roles such as physiotherapists, counselling and newer roles such as Physician Associates and Paramedic Practitioners were contributors to this increase. The number of nurses at all levels in primary care roles showed a negligible increase of 0.0002%, although the number of trainee nurses had increased by 12.5% on last year (from 174 in March 2020 to 195 this year).

While the number of salaried GPs had increased, it also showed the number of locum GPs had also shown an increase of 1.8%, from 983 in March 2020 to 1,005 regular GP locums this year, 268 of those working regular shifts in London practices.

The data also showed that out of the 35,888 qualified permanent GPs, 27% were recruited from outside the UK, with 3% from the European Union.

A poll by the BMA showed that over a third of GPs are still contemplating early retirement, with many more planning to reduce the sessions as they cite the increasing workloads and the pandemic have made significant impacts.

Practice Pressures

Dr. Krishna Kasaraneni, the GP Committee Workforce Lead for the BMA, said that the main reason for this was down to GPs’ being put under increasing pressure; “Doctors across the NHS have been pushed to their limits this past year, with many struggling to get the respite they need following the demands of the pandemic. For some, this has led to them becoming unwell and feeling disillusioned with a job they once loved”.

‘Without the workforce we need, especially as we look to the growing backlog, the future of the NHS hangs in the balance – and patients will continue to wait too long for the care they need.’

To be on course to meet the government target, we would have expected 1,200 more GPs by December 2020. In reality, we had 174 fewer permanent, qualified GPs than in December 2019, as well as 165 fewer locums. However, the number of GP registrars increased by 776 full-time equivalents, meaning there was an overall net gain of 438 GPs (from 34,708 in 2019 to 35,146 in 2020).

The figures showed that there is a direction of travel from GP partners to salaried GPs which has continued over the last year, with sessional GPs accounting for 27% in December 2020. While GP numbers are well below the government’s recruitment targets, there have been significant challenges for workforce planning and recruitment during the pandemic.

 


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