New figures indicate that the number of GPs working within the English NHS system has actually fallen over the last 12 months.
This would seem to be little short of a hammer blow to the pledge of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by the end of the decade.
The number of GP full-time equivalents including trainees fell to 34,495, down by 96 on September 2015.
This was also matched by a drop in the overall headcount of GPs.
The numbers will be particularly alarming, as they go against the assertions of healthcare bodies.
Education bosses and NHS England itself have both claimed that record numbers of doctors have been recruited to GP training this year.
But even this achievement has not been satisfactory to create an overall surplus for the last 12 months.
The figures for GPs have been provided by NHS Digital, with the organisation conceding that they can be considered a provisional experiment at present.
This follows an alteration to the methodology of counting GP numbers that was implemented in April last year.
Last year’s report, which was the first to use the new methodology, revealed a 2% decrease in the number of full-time equivalent GPs.
But the latest figures indicate that the ambitious intention of Hunt to recruit a further 5,000 doctors by 2020 could be forlorn.
GP leaders already believe that the staffing crisis in the healthcare system is getting worse based on this data.
Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, rxpressed the concerns of the General Practitioners Committee regarding the data acquired by NHS Digital.
“These figures clearly demonstrate that the crisis in general practice is getting worse, not better. GP practices across England are struggling to provide enough appointments because they do not have the GPs to see the sheer number of patients coming through the surgery door. Too few medical graduates are choosing a career as a GP and many experienced GPs are opting to leave the NHS altogether.”
Vautrey believes that the current situation is nothing short of disastrous, and that there are clear signs that both NHS England and the Department of Health must increase the pace of investment in general practice.
Responding to the issue, a Department of Health spokesperson suggested that the figures could ultimately be misleading.
“These statistics are four months old, and do not take into account the impact of all the actions we have recently taken to achieve our goal of 5000 more doctors in general practice by 2020, such as cutting red tape, paying some of GPs’ high insurance costs, increasing resources by £2.4 billion, as well as innovative new schemes to retain more GPs. Our latest figures show that we have more GPs in training now than ever before.”