GP workforce data shows why retaining existing staff is crucial to tackling the backlog, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 10 February 2022

Responding to the latest GP workforce data, Dr Farah Jameel, GPC England chair at the BMA, said:

“As months go by, these results for December continue to reflect a worrying and undeniable decline in the number of GPs in England – a loss of the equivalent of 14 full-time, fully-qualified GPs in just a month.1

“For those still working in the service, the slow but steady haemorrhaging of staff means that current pressures become even more acute. As the number of GPs goes down and patient numbers go up, each remaining GP takes on significantly more responsibility for yet more and more patients, this is unsafe -  the average number of patients each GP is responsible for has gone up by around 300 – or 15% - since 2015.

“These figures paint a dark picture; they are a culmination of the detrimental impact that working in an over-stretched, under-resourced NHS is having on GPs across the country. Family doctors, exhausted and disenchanted, feel as though they have no choice but to leave a profession they love because of chronic pressures now made worse by the pandemic. Workload has dramatically increased, there are fewer staff in practices to meet patient needs. As the backlog of care continues to grow, patient safety remains at the back of every GPs mind, and for too many the day job is just no longer safe, sustainable or possible anymore. Retaining current staff must be the immediate priority  and this can only happen if we can prioritise staff wellbeing. Government has the opportunity to make a difference to patient care and must seize this moment to refocus urgently on retention strategies as a key enabler for recovery.

“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 study.2 Furthermore, nearly seven in ten working in general practice (68%) said that workforce supply shortages were highly influential of their thoughts about leaving the health service.3

“The BMA is backing an amendment to the Health and Care Bill, which would legislate for a long-term, fully-funded workforce strategy, which we believe is urgently needed alongside any plan to tackle the backlog. This must be done in partnership with the profession.

“The Government has repeatedly argued that the number of doctors is growing, but this isn’t the reality for general practice, and it begs the question: how many more have to go before something is finally done about it? Our NHS is the people who work in it, and without them, the entire system and provision of patient care is under threat.”


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. As requested by the BMA, the GP workforce data for December 2021 has been updated to reinclude full estimates of the GP workforce where data was missing, after being removed in August 2021.
  2. 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’.

  1. 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’.