Last reviewed 11 May 2021

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that the GP workforce is not growing quickly enough to cope with current or future demand, in response to the latest NHS Digital workforce statistics.

The data from General Practice Workforce 31 March 2021 show a slight 0.4% increase in fully qualified GPs at 28,096; 111 more than in March 2020.

This release provided counts of the workforce at 31 March 2021 while also including three months’ infrequent locum usage, thus staying in line with previous quarterly releases.

It revealed that for all GPs, including registrars, there has been a 2.8% increase in full-time equivalent numbers in the past year. But the trend in declining GP partners continued with full-time equivalent numbers dropping from 17,910 in March 2020 to 17,003 in March 2021.

BMA GP Committee (GPC) Executive Team Workforce Lead Dr Krishna Kasaraneni responded to the release saying: “With the equivalent of just 111 more full-time, fully-qualified GPs joining the health service between March 2020 and March 2021, an increase of just 0.4%, today’s data is yet another stark reminder of the ongoing workforce crisis currently facing the NHS.”

He added: “In fact, the overall GP workforce has barely grown since 2015, and the number of GP partners has actually fallen by the equivalent of more than 900 full-time doctors in the most recent 12 months, so efforts to retain these experienced and talented members of staff should be treated with just as much importance as encouraging new GPs into the NHS.”

He said the promise made in 2015, when the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt promised an extra 5000 GPs by 2020/21, superseded by a target of 6000 by 2024, must now be kept. He added: “Without the workforce we need, especially as we look to the growing backlog, the future of the NHS hangs in the balance and patients will continue to wait too long for the care they need.”

This follows recent BMA survey results that revealed more than a third of GPs are considering early retirement within a year. When asked about their plans for the next year, 51% of GP respondents across the UK added that they were now more likely to reduce their hours, and 55% said workload was one of the factors that “best explains” their reasons for changing their career plans and 45% cited their personal wellbeing.

Almost 7 in 10 GPs, or 68%, were “not at all” or “not very” confident that their practice can manage patient demand as normal NHS services are resumed.

The BMA’s Covid-19: Analysing the Impact of Coronavirus on Doctors” is here.

NHS Digital data are available here.