College reveals worrying decrease in number of GPs per patient - despite increasing demand for general practice services

Publication date: 18 January 2019

New data analysis by the Royal College of GPs has found a concerning decrease in the number of GPs per patient in England over the last decade - this despite an increase in demand for general practice services.

The data, which compared Office for National Statistics official population data with GP workforce numbers from NHS Digital*, shows that the ratio has fallen from 6.56 full-time equivalent GPs per 10,000 population in 2007 to 6.19 FTE GPs per 10,000 population in 2017. The ratio is the lowest it has been since 2004. ONS figures for 2018 are not yet available.

GPs and their teams are making an increasing number of patient consultations every year – and research has shown workload is increasing both in volume and complexity. Yet, the latest workforce data from NHS Digital shows that there are fewer FTE family doctors in the workforce than there were two years ago – and data published on Thursday showed that 3m patients waited more than three weeks for an appointment in December last year.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Our patients are living longer – that's one of the great wonders of modern medicine – but as they do, they are increasingly living with multiple, chronic conditions, which has a massive impact on workload in general practice, both in terms of volume and complexity.

"Unfortunately, as this data shows, the GP workforce is not rising with demand - indeed, we have fewer full-time equivalent GPs delivering patient care than we had two years ago. As a result, each GP is responsible for more patients – and more elderly patients, who typically have greater and more complex health needs – every year.

"This increasing pressure without the sufficient resources or an increased workforce of fully-qualified GPs to cope with it is untenable. The fact that GP workload is escalating and set to continue to do so - particularly with the drive to deliver more care out of hospitals stated clearly in the NHS long-term plan - whilst the GP workforce is still falling runs the risk of a perfect storm.

"We know that GPs are already stressed and burning out, in many cases leaving the profession earlier than they planned to, and a shortage of GPs is the main reason why patients are waiting too long for an appointment.

"NHS England's long-term plan for the health service has some great aspirations that promise to benefit patients – and it recognises the importance of GPs and their wider team of healthcare professionals for the sustainability of the NHS. But the plan will need the comprehensive workforce challenges we currently face to be solved, if we are to be able to deliver the vision.

"The forthcoming workforce strategy must explore all possible options to both recruit more GPs to the profession – and there is some excellent work ongoing in this respect - but also to retain our existing, hard-working and experienced workforce, as well as looking to use the skills of other healthcare professionals to best support the delivery of general practice.

"Key to this will be looking at how to reduce escalating workload – particularly the bureaucracy and red tape that diverts GPs from patient care - to make working in general practice more sustainable and removing incentives to retire early for GPs who might not necessarily want to.

"Ultimately, we need to see NHS England's GP Forward View, which promised an extra £2.5bn a year for general practice, delivered, in full, as soon as possible, along with guarantees that general practice will receive a significant share of the additional funding earmarked for primary and community care outlined in the NHS Long-Term Plan."

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633/7574/7575
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

*Changes to the way GP workforce data was gathered mean that statistics from 2015 onwards are not directly comparable with earlier years.

Further detail of methodological changes can be found on the NHS Digital website 

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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