England may have turned the corner in reversing the decline in GP numbers – but not at a rate fast enough to deal with shortages, according to senior doctors.
Figures published yesterday showed an increase in GP registrar numbers increase the full-time equivalent GP workforce by 0.9% in the year ending in March – equivalent to 312 posts in total.
Once registrars were excluded the number fell by 441, a reduction of 1.5%. In total 44,847 doctors were working in general practice at the end of March, some 350 more than a year earlier.
Practices enjoyed an increase in numbers of nurses and other direct patient care staff – but the numbers continue to be fewer than doctors working in general practice. Nurse numbers increased by 2.1%, reaching 23,756.
The number of other direct patient care staff increased by 3.9%, reaching 19,257. Practices also increased administrative staff by 1.1%, reaching more than 95,000.
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “If more GPs are leaving the profession than entering it, we are fighting a losing battle. We need to see initiatives being implemented to help retain our existing, experienced workforce and key to that will be addressing workload to make working in general practice more sustainable.
“Expanding the wider practice team is an important element of this, and something that features heavily in Fit for the Future – the College’s vision for general practice – so it’s great that overall numbers of these roles are increasing, but they must not be seen as substitutes for GPs, and numbers of some of our colleagues in vital roles, such as practice nurses, also continue to struggle.”
British Medical Association GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “These figures do show a recent rise in overall GP numbers, including those in training, but it is nowhere near sufficient to deal with the reality of what is needed to address the crisis facing general practice.
“The steady increase in patient demand coupled with hundreds fewer full-time equivalent GPs means that practices across the country are being placed under tremendous pressure and leaving too many patients waiting too long to see their GP.”