The UK has fewer GPs per person than at any time in the last 50 years, according to a stark analysis published today.
The failure of GP numbers to keep up with population growth was highlighted by a second survey showing doctors working, on average, 11 hour days. The Nuffield Trust analysis found that there are now just 5,454 GPs for every 100,000 people. In 1964 this stood at 5,858.
Scotland, which has achieved limited growth in GP numbers, has the greatest number for its population. North West London is struggling the most to recruit doctors and has the lowest rate together with a significant decline in total numbers – 5% in the last two years.
Researcher Billy Palmer writes: “Our recent work with the other health think-tanks found that there was no way of filling the gap between the supply of GPs and the need for them in the next few years.
“But we concluded that greater use of other professionals, like physiotherapists and pharmacists, could still make it possible to deliver as much care as was needed. Of course, such a big shift in the workforce under the great strain that exists will be difficult.”
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the findings were “disheartening.”
She said: “There is some excellent work ongoing to boost recruitment into general practice and as a result we have more GPs in training that ever before. But GPs cannot be trained overnight, and whilst we wait for the next generation of family doctors to enter the workforce, existing GPs and our teams are struggling to manage escalating workloads without enough time or the resources to deal with them.
“Demand for GP services is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity – and when this is compounded by falling GP numbers, it creates a perfect storm that is leading to GPs becoming stressed and burning out, and in many cases leaving NHS general practice far earlier than they might otherwise have done.”
* A second survey published today reveals the pressures facing GPs. On average a GP now works an 11 hour day, according to a survey by Pulse magazine.
Dr Farah Jameel, from the British Medical Association GP committee, called for an end to “sticking plaster” solutions.
Dr Jameel said: “These findings may be striking but are sadly not altogether surprising. They reflect our own research, highlighting the intense pressure GPs are under every day – and the impact that this can have on patient safety.
“Excessive workload is a problem that has been over a decade in the making, so unfortunately it’s not going to be solved with short-term fixes – and the profession has had enough of sticking plaster solutions.”
She added: “With the planned recruitment of over 20,000 additional practice-based staff, working alongside GPs, and as practices support one another through increasing collaboration, we hope that the current pressure on individual GPs will ease and both encourage more experienced doctors to stay in the profession while also attracting new recruits. We cannot allow excessive workload to overshadow all that is good about general practice, for both doctors and patients.”