Health leaders have warned that the total number of GPs working within the NHS system has yet to return to 2015 levels.
This is based on official headcount and full-time equivalent data over the final quarter of the 2016/17 financial year.
The figures would seem to indicate that the NHS is far from being on track to meet the Conservative party’s pledge of training and retaining an additional 5,000 GPs by the end of the decade.
This policy appeared in the recent Conservative election manifesto.
NHS Digital, responsible for publishing the data on the GP workforce, did indicate that comparisons should be treated with caution owing to new data organisation techniques having been utilised.
Furthermore, seasonal changes in workforce data could also have an impact on figures, with these currently being unknown.
Nonetheless, official data indicates that the number of GPs in England fall from 41,865 in September 2016 to 41,475 in December; a fall of 390, or 0.9%.
Commenting on the issue, GPC education, training and workforce lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, suggested that the figures demonstrated that the Conservative government has fundamentally failed to meet its commitments to the NHS.
“These figures demonstrate the failure of politicians to uphold their pledges to deliver the GPs necessary to provide the number of appointments and sustainable service that patients deserve. The overall number of GPs working in England has dropped since 2015, which leaves the NHS a considerable distance short of the current targets for the GP workforce. There is little prospect of the promised 5,000 additional GPs materialising anytime soon.”
Kasaraneni went on to label the situation as a crisis, and called on the winner of the next general election to address the situation immediately.
“This continued workforce crisis has left many GP practices unable to properly staff their surgeries at a time when local services are struggling to cope with rising patient demand and flat lining budgets. A recent BMA survey showed that a third of GP practices had vacancies left unfilled for a year. The next government must ensure that we have a properly staffed service that can meet the needs of patients.”
Meanwhile, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard reflected that there is currently little evidence that the NHS will be able to meet the Conservative target for GP recruitment.
“Of course any rise in GP numbers is encouraging, and we are seeing a small rise since the last figures in December – but we are still way off the GP Forward View target. Workload in general practice is soaring – 16% over the last seven years according to the latest research – yet our workforce has not risen in step, and is now actually reducing. This isn’t acceptable.”