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As an indemnity provider created by GPs for GPs, we pay close attention to the state of the profession. We’re acutely aware of the current shortage of GPs and the need to protect and support the skilled professionals who work across the country. In this post, we look at the latest set of data, which also shows which parts of the country have the biggest GP shortages.

GP numbers down since 2015

The number of GPs in England has fallen by nearly 1,000 since 2015 with 339 fewer full-time equivalent fully-qualified GPs in England in the last year alone. This news comes following an earlier report that showed the proportion of patients finding it difficult to get through to make an appointment with their GP had risen by 65% since 2012.

Doctors’ leaders say the average number of patients GPs should have on their list is 1,600 to provide a high-quality service. But, in September this year, the average number of patients per GP was a staggering 2,100. To maintain the top standards GPs want to set, it’s estimated that an additional 9,000 doctors would be needed.

Which parts of the country have the highest shortage of GPs?

The shortage of GPs affects different areas in the country in different ways.

The biggest overall fall in doctors since 2015 was seen in the North East (with an 11% drop) and the East of England (-7%).

The five areas of the country in need of the most GPs are:

  • NHS Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (East of England), where the shortfall is 178 GPs
  • NHS Birmingham and Solihull (West Midlands), 172 GPs short
  • NHS Leeds (Yorkshire and Humber), 142 GPs short
  • NHS Derby and Derbyshire (East Midlands), 138 GPs short
  • NHS Nene (East Midlands), 128 GPs short.

The figures were published recently by the TUC. General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Our hardworking and overstretched GPs are working tirelessly to help patients. But there are simply not enough of them to keep up with demand.

“As a result, patients are not getting the treatments they need on time – and family doctors are stressed and overwhelmed.”

In 2018, a separate survey of 760,000 patients found 27.9% of them struggle to  get through to their family doctor – a rise from 18.6% in 2012. On the back of that, Pulse magazine obtained data which showed that over the last six years, 585 practices have closed, covering a population of nearly 1.9million. Plus, in February, 42% of NHS GPs said they intended to leave or retire from the industry within five years, up from less than a third (32%) in 2014.

‘We need 5,000 GP trainees a year’

Responding to the latest NHS Digital data on GP workforce, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “General practice has experienced a workforce and workload crisis for a long time, resulting in many of the more experienced GPs burning out long before retirement.

“As a significant proportion of the workforce approach retirement age, effective retention strategies have to be implemented to keep people in the profession longer. It’s the only way more experienced GPs can have safe, sustainable careers in the NHS, both delivering patient care, and mentoring the next generation of GPs.

“On the positive side, recruitment efforts over recent years have seen the largest uptakes of GP trainees than ever before – and it’s something we are proud of. However, we need a steady flow of at least 5,000 GP trainees a year if were to avoid severe GP shortages.

“Reducing the undoable workload and having plans in place to ensure GPs don’t experience burnout is therefore imperative in keeping the frontline of the NHS safe for patients.”

‘We need to protect the nation’s hard-working GPs’

MDS CEO Rohan Simon added: “The latest figures are a concern and, yet again, show why we need to protect the nation’s hard-working GPs. We support any efforts being made to boost GP numbers as well as those to offer support to those currently in the post.

“When the Government introduced its state-backed indemnity scheme earlier this year it argued that high indemnity prices contributed to the low number of GPs. At that time we did say that this was just one factor – and that there should be a focus on other areas too. This shows that state scheme needs to be followed up with further action.

“MDS will continue to lobby the Government and lend its support to measures that would help GPs to have a better work life balance.

“MDS was established by GPs, for GPs. Its focus is to support the specific needs of GPs and is here to lend support wherever it may be needed. Ultimately, we want to ensure GPs can do their jobs to the best of their ability, with peace of mind that help is at hand when they need it.”

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