General practice continues to go above and beyond for patients despite falling workforce numbers

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 31 March 2022

Responding to the latest GP appointments and workforce data released today, Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of council at the BMA, said: “Today’s data is yet another example of the worrying trend currently facing general practice; that we have far fewer GPs seeing more patients than two years ago. 

“In February 2022, GPs provided almost 13 million appointments (12.9 million) in England – that’s about 463 appointments per GP and is over and above Covid-19 vaccine appointments.1 Two years earlier in February 2020, 12.46 million appointments were delivered – around 445 per GP. We have the equivalent of 1,565 fewer fully-qualified full-time GPs than we did in 2015, despite the average number of patients each GP is responsible for having increased by around 300 – or 16% - since 2015. 

“This rise in GP appointment figures – and that the vast majority are being delivered face-to-face - is testament to the dedication of our healthcare workers. But as members have repeatedly told the BMA, going above and beyond to fill staffing gaps and trying to meet patient demand, is not a sustainable way of working. 

“Fewer GPs providing care to an increasing number of patients increases the risk of patient harm and poorer care through decision fatigue, as well as risking harm to the GP through burnout and psychological injury. Doctors are exhausted and many feel as though they have no choice but to leave the profession they love for the sake of their own health and wellbeing, thus creating a vicious cycle of even fewer GPs and even more burn out. 

“That’s why it was so disappointing to see the scale of Government inaction – only yesterday MPs decided not to vote in support of upholding the Lords’ amendment 29 to the Health and Care Bill, which would have made it a legal requirement for the Secretary of State to publish regular, independently verified assessments of the workforce numbers needed, now and in the future. 

“After all, the workforce crisis is not limited to general practice – figures today also show that the rate of growth in the hospital workforce has decreased again from 7.5% to 7% in February 2022. This slowing of growth means existing staff are stretched thinner, which in turn means longer wait times for patients in pain and distress, an exhausted workforce that threatens patient safety and results in high levels of staff absence and sickness. 

“This comes at a time where patient satisfaction with the NHS – and particularly, general practice, is at an all-time low. This should be wake-up call for a Government that has been woefully inadequate in its response to the crisis unfolding before it, despite being advised by the BMA, doctors and other healthcare professionals that this would be the consequence of their lack of attention. It is apparent that both patients' and healthcare professionals' calls are being systematically ignored.  

“The data speaks for itself, and Government cannot continue to have its head in the sand about what it means. Patients are already feeling the impact of a depleted NHS workforce, but without meaningful action to address this crisis, experienced and valued healthcare workers will continue to suffer ill health or leave the NHS, and the waiting lists will grow, leaving even more than the current six million waiting for care and treatment.”

ENDS

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. The number of vaccination appointments continues to decrease from 1.3 million in January down to 307,000 in February 2022 - an admittedly smaller figure than previous months, but only because general practice has been at the forefront of the rollout and ensuring it was a success. When including vaccination appointments in the overall figures, one million more appointments were delivered in general practice than the pre-Covid levels of February 2020 (+4%).