Research commissioned by the BBC and undertaken by health think tank Nuffield Trust has today revealed that the National Health Service is experiencing a sustained drop in GP numbers for the first time in 50 years.
The report comes on the same day that GP magazine Pulse reveals the results of its most recent survey of 1700 GPs in which the majority of GPs report believing current pressures on general practice are endangering patient safety.
The Nuffield Trust’s report notes that GP numbers across the entirety of the UK - those numbers including full-time and part-time GPs per 100,000 of the population - were in decline during the late 1960s but began to increase on a year-by-year basis from the 1970s onwards. The increases peaking in 2009 with 66.5 GPs to every 100,000 of the population.
The report notes that from 2014 onwards there has been a consistent decline in the overall numbers of GPs for the last four years. However, this decline has not been uniform in its extent across the UK. England has experienced the decline most acutely, followed by Wales and then Scotland whilst Northern Ireland has managed to buck the trend with an overall increase.
The BBC reports that the fall from 64.9 GPs per 100,000 of the population in 2014 to 60 per 100,000 today, means the average doctor now sees an extra of 125 patients compared with 2014.
With the overall numbers of GPs currently in work standing at 42,000. A decline of nearly 1,500 in four years. William Palmer, Senior Fellow in Health Policy at the Nuffield Trust and author of the report attributed the decline in GPs to multitude of factors including; practitioners retiring early; a failure to recruit internationally; insufficient training of junior doctors for general practice.
The findings of the report come at a time when demand on GPs is increasing and the population is ageing. Meaning in turn that there is a growth of patients presenting to general practice with multiple and complex needs.
This increased demand has seen a record number of GPs experience burnout as they routinely see more than 30 patients in a day with the number sometimes inching into 60 patients a day according to respondents of Pulse’s GP workload survey.
Reacting to the news, Secretary to the National Health Action Party and South London based GP Dr Louise Irvine said: “Unfortunately the findings of this latest report by the Nuffield Trust haven’t come out of the blue. Practitioners and experts have been warning central government for some time that things cannot continue the way they are going. GPs are being placed under immense pressure not solely due to increased demand – although this clearly is playing a part – but also and primarily due to the effects of austerity and the spending squeeze that has been inflicted on the NHS”.
Dr Irvine went on to say, “much more could be done to support general practice. Unfortunately, we currently have a Health Secretary undermining its very foundations through his support of apps like GP at Hand and a government continuing to push through a damaging Brexit which is hampering not only our ability to recruit doctors internationally, but also to recruit other essential staff such as nurses”.