BMA laments “disappointing” pace of increase in GP numbers

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  22 Aug 2017

The number of full time equivalent GPs in England increased by less than 1% in the past three months, show new figures the BMA has described as “disappointing.”

The figures, from NHS Digital, show that there were 34 242 full time equivalent GPs in England as at 30 June 2017, an increase of 321 (0.9%) from 33 921 in March 2017.[1]

Excluding locum GPs, the number of full time equivalent GPs increased by 263 (0.8%) to 33 235 in June from 32 972 in March.

But from March 2016 to March 2017 the number of full time GPs, excluding locums, fell by 1252 (3.7%).[2] By comparison, the number of full time equivalent consultants rose by 1465 (3.4%) to 45 096 in the same period, while the number of full time equivalent doctors in training increased by 843 (1.7%) to 50 969.

The chair of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, Richard Vautrey, said that the “marginal” increase in GP numbers over the past three months showed that progress against the government’s target, to increase the workforce by 5000 GPs by 2020,[3] was too slow. He said, “It is disappointing that once again the latest official figures show only a marginal increase in the GP workforce in England, despite repeated promises by politicians that patients would be seeing thousands more GPs trained in the UK delivering care in the NHS.

“Many GP practices are struggling badly to provide enough appointments and basic services to the public because of endemic staff shortages.”

Vautrey said the government needed to go beyond the provisions of NHS England’s General Practice Forward View so that Health Education England, NHS England, and other bodies were able to recruit and, crucially, retain GPs. “Far too many GPs are quitting the profession owing to the overworked and underfunded environment they are expected to work in, while medical graduates are turning their backs on a career in general practice for the same reasons,” he said.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, was more positive but agreed that it was essential to improve GPs’ workload and conditions to be able to recruit and retain more staff. She said, “There is no doubt that there is a long way to go before we have the number of GPs we really need—or the number pledged in NHS England’s GP Forward View—but it is important that we do recognise success when we find it, and an increase of 321 more GPs in the workforce over a three month period is certainly not to be sniffed at.

“If we continue on an upwards trajectory throughout the course of the GP Forward View then we will substantially increase the number of GPs in the workforce.”

But she added, “We must continue to pull out every stop imaginable to recruit more GPs, make it easier for trained GPs to return to practice, and perhaps most importantly address workload and conditions in general practice, so that more GPs stay in our profession, delivering patient care for years to come.”

BMJ Careers News NHS expands overseas GP recruitment drive despite slow progress so far [Link]


  1. NHS Digital. General and personal medical services, England, as at 30 June 2017: provisional experimental statistics. Aug 2017. [Link] .
  2. NHS Digital. Healthcare workforce statistics, England, March 2017. [Link] .
  3. Iacobucci G. GP services in England get multibillion cash injection in landmark deal. BMJ  2016;353:i2297. [Link]   [Link] .

Abi Rimmer The BMJ

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