What’s Causing The Fall In GP Numbers?
GP numbers are falling, according to this year’s NHS digital report. So what does this mean for the future of general practice?
This latest report comes after a staggering loss between September 2017 and March 2018, during which time the NHS lost 405 doctors. The NHS’s most recent findings show that the number of doctors in UK general practice fell by 235 this year to 33,686 full-time equivalents (FTEs). This severe drop in GPs is deeply concerning, but also not surprising to many.
GP numbers: why the decline?
The NHS digital report shows that GPs are striving to deliver care to over a million patients a day. However, the majority of primary care doctors lack the resources and workforce to carry out their work effectively. This means working in general practice is often unsafe for patients, and for the doctors themselves.
The UK has more doctors in training than ever before, but despite efforts to recruit more doctors to general practice, GP numbers are still falling.
According to the research, the reasons for the decline in GP numbers is two-fold:
- High patient demand
- Strenuous workload
According to NHS findings, general practice doctors are continuously working 12 hour days, seeing more than 60 patients per clinic session, and are tackling mountains of administrative work without adequate support staff.
A Pulse investigation (published in February 2018) also showed a steep rise in the number of GPs claiming their pension early before the age of 60. Since 2013, almost 3,000 general practice doctors claimed their pensions early and left the profession. It should come as no surprise, then, that GP numbers are on the decline.
NHS forward view: what’s next for general practice?
As part of the five year Forward View initiative, the government has pledged to recruit an additional 5,000 doctors by 2021. However, with NHS retention rates in crisis, stabilising the number of doctors working in general practice is proving challenging enough. Figures from NHS digital continue to indicate that the Government is way behind on its five-year target.
Ultimately, it’s the patients who will suffer from this continual decline in GP numbers, so what is the solution?
“NHS England needs to make a demonstrable increase in the funding elements of general practice. They need to resolve some of the issues that are barriers to doctors choosing general practice, whether that be the indemnity arrangement or the risks around premises, or the workload.” Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s GP committee.
What are the alternatives to general practice?
Despite the drop in GP numbers, the role of a general practitioner can still be highly rewarding. However, many GPs seek out career alternatives for any or all of the reasons above.
One solution to the workload that comes with general practice is to become an out-of-hours doctor. That way, you can still practice, but your working hours will be far more flexible. OOH work tends to be more triage-focused, so there won’t be as much administration involved — your job will be to assess patients and refer them on to the relevant departments.