Official data show that last year, for the first time, the proportion of GPs working full time or more fell below 30%, although the figures may underestimate actual hours worked.

According to GP workforce figures published by NHS Digital, the proportion of GPs in salaried or partnership roles, working full time or more than full time in September 2018, was 29.7%.

This proportion dropped sharply over the past three years, falling from 34.3% in September 2015. The figures, however, are based on the hours doctors are contracted to work, not actual time worked, and almost four in five GPs said they worked more than their contracted hours according to a GPonline poll conducted at the end of 2018.

Among partners, the proportion working 37.5 hours or more dropped from 42% in September 2015 to 38.9% in September 2018. Among salaried GPs, the proportion working full time or more dropped from 15.1% to 12.3% over the three-year period.

Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said current pressures in general practice often mean that working full time simply wasn’t sustainable. She also added: “Less than full time in general practice often involves working more hours than the average full-time job, and our research has shown that 11-hour days in surgery are not uncommon, all of which is unsafe for our GPs, our staff and our patients.”

She said it was also important to remember that some work part time clinical workers have portfolio careers and are contributing to the NHS and patient care in other areas of healthcare.

British Medical Association (BMA) General Practitioners’ Committee Chair Dr Richard Vautrey addressed the issue of GPs reducing the hours they were contracted to work in his speech at the England Local Medical Committees (LMCs) conference in November. He claimed: “It’s no wonder that so many GPs are reducing their clinical commitment in order to reduce their risk. But they are also doing this to help manage workload pressures, to help get their head back above water, to achieve a better balance in their professional lives and to be able to sleep better at night because the risk of mistakes and errors has been reduced.”

Last reviewed 17 January 2019