Declining number of GPs shows no signs of abating without a workable plan to recruit and retain NHS staff, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: England
Last reviewed: 3 March 2022
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Responding to the latest GP workforce data for January 2022, Dr Farah Jameel, GPC England chair at the BMA, said:

“At a time of significant upheaval, long waiting lists and increasing sickness in our communities, it is a terrible indictment of the current state of the NHS that highly qualified GPs are leaving the profession in such large numbers. The latest data show that over the last year England has lost the equivalent of 279 fully qualified full-time GPs, with 91 having left in the last month alone. This loss of 91 GPs works out as the equivalent of more than 200,000 patients having lost their family doctor between December and January - while at the same time we have gained 130,598 new patients1. The immense loss of these colleagues will be sorely felt across the entire health and social care system, by patients who will wait longer for treatment, and by staff who will stretch themselves even thinner serving increasing numbers of patients to the detriment of care quality. It is clear that an emergency rescue plan is urgently needed in general practice. Workforce planning has to be the most important strategic priority for policy makers. It is time that the NHS puts its workforce first, for without a workforce there will be no service left.

“Pressures in general practice continue to escalate with no signs of abating. We have lost the equivalent of 1,608 fully qualified full-time GPs in the last seven years, despite the fact that the average number of patients each GP is responsible for has risen by 16% - an average of 300 more patients per GP - since then2. The Government has recognised the huge backlog of patient need in secondary care but has provided no equivalent plan to address the mounting pressure in primary care, even though it is up to primary care to look after patients who are unable to access secondary care services. Without a plan to properly support staff in general practice, no inroads can be made into the hidden backlog of unmet need, which is causing untold distress to patients and the doctors who care for them. 

“Without a workable plan to recruit and retain NHS staff, escalating pressures will inevitably drive more GPs to the brink of exhaustion and burnout. According to a recent BMA survey, almost two-thirds (60%) of GP respondents said they are currently suffering from stress, burnout, or other mental health conditions relating to or made worse by their work or study3. Furthermore, nearly seven in ten working in general practice (68%) said that workforce supply shortages were highly influential in their thoughts about leaving the health service4. This is therefore not a problem which is confined to the immediate present; it is an issue that will escalate unless the Government intervenes.

“With the contract changes5 announced by NHS England and NHS Improvement this week for general practice in England, GPs see no end in sight to the pressures they are facing and patients will reap the consequences with worsening access to GPs, rationing of services and the emergence of a two-tier healthcare system. With no flexibility afforded to practices to employ the professionals that they need and can realistically find locally, GPs and their teams lack the support they need to care for their patients. And by failing to offer practices something as simple as reimbursement to cover additional costs for national insurance contributions, a tax aimed at funding the NHS, has become a tax on care itself. The result will be fewer members of staff to care for the growing needs of patients, leading to it becoming even more difficult to provide the safe, high quality care patients so desperately need and deserve.

“Doctors know that in medicine, as in wider society, prevention is better than the cure. The Government must recognise the wisdom of this logic by acknowledging that it cannot tackle the backlog of care, nor the future healthcare needs of this country, without addressing longstanding recruitment and retention issues in general practice. It must respond with emergency support for general practice, delivering tangible changes that recognise the scale of challenges we face, and providing the levers which will allow GPs to deliver high quality, safe patient care in the context of rising and deeply distressing patient acuity.” 



Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. BMA analysis of NHS Digital General Practice Workforce Data for January 2022.
  2. BMA analysis of NHS Digital General Practice Workforce Data
  3. Doctors were asked: 'Do you consider that you are currently suffering from any of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by your work or study?'
  • 22% of GPs answered, ‘Yes – and worse during the last month’
  • 38% of GPs said, ‘Yes – but no worse during the last month’
  • 31% said, ‘No’, 4% answered, ‘Don’t know’, and another 5% said, ‘Prefer not to say’.

    4. Doctors were asked: ‘How if at all might any of the following influence your thoughts about leaving the health service?’

5% of GP respondents said ‘low’; 25% said ‘medium’; 68% said ‘high’, and 2% said ‘no influence’.

    5. Read the BMA’s response to the GP contract changes outlined by NHS England and NHS Improvement this week.