The NHS has lost almost 600 GPs in the last year as its recruitment crisis continues, figures show.
Almost as many family doctors left the health service between June 2018 and June 2019 as did in the entire three years to March.
Doctors’ union the British Medical Association said falling GP numbers mean strained GPs are risking their own health to catch up with huge workloads.
Detailed figures from NHS Digital show which practices have lost or gained the most doctors, with one medical centre in London losing 31 in three months.
The losses again highlight the spectacular failure of the Government’s pledge to hire 5,000 extra GPs between by 2020.
In the three years since the Government pledged to hire 5,000 more GPs, the number of fully qualified doctors has dropped by around 1,000 (pictured) and the overall number of doctors is down by 148
The NHS figures released today show 28,257 full-time equivalent, fully qualified doctors were employed in GP practices in England in June.
This was a drop of 576 from 28,697 in March this year, and from 28,833 in June last year.
Overall, numbers are rising as locum doctors and trainees who are not yet fully qualified bring the total number of full-time GPs up to 34,114.
This was 0.8 per cent more than a year earlier but suggests staff are cutting their hours or being replaced by junior doctors who can’t yet work without supervision.
The BMA’s Dr Krishna Kasaraneni told industry news site GP Online: ‘As patient demand rises and the workforce gets smaller, GPs are taking on more work – often in excess of their contracted hours.
‘This places a huge amount of strain on GPs, who are putting their own health and wellbeing at risk to ensure their patients get the best care possible.’
As well as overstretched patient lists, doctor numbers have been hit by a row over pension rules which mean NHS employees face heavy and ‘unfair’ taxes once they’ve saved up a certain amount of money.
This has led to some cutting their hours to keep their pension contributions down and may even have triggered early retirements, unions have said.
The NHS has been in the grip of a recruitment crisis for years and is now thought to be short of around 100,000 staff, among them doctors and nurses.
Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, pledged in 2015 that the Government would head a recruitment drive to hire 5,000 more GPs by 2020.
His promise has failed and there are now about 1,000 fewer fully-qualified full-time equivalent staff and 150 fewer in total.
Doctors say their workload is becoming more difficult because increasing numbers of people turn up to appointments with more than one medical condition (stock image)
HOW IS THE NHS TRYING TO HIRE MORE DOCTORS?
- Health service last year revealed it would offer doctors working in Australia an £18,500 bonus if they moved to the UK to work for the NHS. A recruitment campaign reportedly tried to persuade doctors to move to the land of Harry Potter, Manchester United and William Shakespeare.
- NHS set up a scheme to recruit 2,000 GPs from abroad by encouraging doctors in other countries to apply to work in the NHS. But only 34 were recruited between 2015 and February this year.
- Trainee GPs offered a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ bonus if they take a job in hard-to-fill jobs. The young doctors must commit to work for at least three years in areas with notable shortages, including Hull, Plymouth, Lancaster and rural parts of County Durham and North Yorkshire.
- Matt Hancock suggested the tax-free pension ceiling could be lifted to try and persuade more existing GPs to work into their 60s. Currently doctors have to pay tax on any pension savings over £1m, but this amount could be increased.
But his successor, Matt Hancock, said earlier this year he was still committed to the target and would soon set a new timeline to achieve it.
More detailed data released today by the NHS showed the change in GP numbers at individual practice level for thousands of surgeries across England between March and June this year.
Three practices appear to have lost more than 25 staff each in the last three months alone, although figures may be inflated by surgeries merging.
A total of 1,141 have recorded staff losses since March, with the vast majority losing one or two of their senior doctors.
Meanwhile, 1,093 practices gained doctors, with the biggest increase 17 staff in one practice.
Professor Martin Marshall, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘The number of fully-qualified GPs leaving the profession is concerning and reflects the harsh reality of what it’s like for family doctors working in NHS general practice, facing intense resource and workforce pressures on a daily basis.
‘We desperately need to see more funding for the roll out of retention schemes across the country, if we have any chance of turning this situation around.
‘Demand for GP services is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity.
‘Paired with falling workforce numbers, it creates a perfect storm that is leaving GPs stressed, burnt out, and leaving the profession earlier than planned – and our patients waiting much longer for an appointment than they should have to.’
HOW HAS THE GP CRISIS CHANGED THIS YEAR?
GPs in the UK have been suffering with growing workloads and concerns about the workforce shrinking for years.
A poll in February found 42 per cent of NHS GPs said they intended to leave or retire within five years, up from less than a third (32 per cent) in 2014.
The research by the University of Warwick found almost a fifth (18 per cent) said they would leave within two years.
Terminally ill patients are missing out on ideal care, according to other research by the Royal College of GPs in February, with doctors saying they are too busy to look after dying people.
Although 92 per cent of doctors said end-of-life care is an ‘important’ part of being a doctor, four out of five of them say they don’t have enough time to do it well.
And long appointment waits are still a problem for patients across England.
Between January and March this year, 12.3million appointments were completed 15 days or more after patients had booked to see their doctor.
This was a 14 per cent rise from the 10.8million during the same period last year, and represents one in six patients overall.
Experts said the figures show how GPs’ workloads are expanding as the number of appointments continues to grow but the number of doctors falls.