New method of collecting data fails to reflect the reality of the GP workforce crisis, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 5 August 2021

Responding to the latest instalment of quarterly GP workforce data, released by NHS Digital today, Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC chair at the BMA, said: 
“Today’s GP workforce data is disingenuous and fails to accurately reflect the staffing shortages that we, and thousands of doctors across England, know are facing primary care - and have been for at least a decade.
“The methodology NHS Digital is now using no longer includes estimated data to accommodate for the small proportion of practices that upload no or only partial workforce figures each quarter. As a result, this makes it look like the decrease in the GP workforce is less than the actual reality shown across previous datasets. 
“The new way of collecting the data suggests that the fully-qualified FTE GP workforce has shrunk by 363 since September 2015 - but we know that in September 2015 only 88% of practices provided data, compared to almost 100% in today’s dataset. This means that the number of doctors we’ve lost over that period is significantly higher than what is being presented, and the data therefore does not accurately depict the extent of the staffing crisis in general practice. 
“It’s clear that the change in methodology was designed to obscure the reality; the data release is now less accurate and simply doesn’t capture what we know to be happening on the ground. The workforce crisis has been at the centre of GP pressures for over a decade, so to play down the reality of it is not only incredibly frustrating, but also insulting to the thousands of GPs who experience the impact that workforce shortages are having on their profession, and patients, every day. 
“We can’t make improvements without understanding the extent of the problem, which is why NHS Digital must be allowed to revert to its original methodology as a matter of urgency. We’re already losing talented, experienced GPs to the workforce crisis – attempting to gaslight them into believing it’s not real is only going to drive more away.”

A GP in the south of England said: “I’m a partner and in the past year I have lost a partner to early retirement and two partners to periods of sick leave due to the stress of the job. 
“You cannot talk about workforce in general practice without also talking about workload. We simply do not have enough GPs to cope with ever-expanding patient demand. Our funding assumes three patient contacts per annum for every patient on our list. We are currently running around seven per annum. 
“I have asked a couple of our salaried GPs who I think have the right stuff to be partners whether this is something they would consider but their response is always the same -  they see how hard we’re working and do not want to subject themselves to the same ever increasing workload.”

Another, in the southwest, said: “I have just got home from another 13-hour day. There is a vicious cycle happening with our poor workforce numbers nationally. Every time a GP reduces their hours or quits, or a post is unfilled, the strain on the remaining GPs increases. That leads to more GPs leaving. We can't keep doing this. So many of us are at breaking point.”

One based in the north said: “The Government says that there are more staff working in primary care, funded through the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme – this may be true, but they are not reducing the work on GPs; if anything they are only assisting with otherwise unmet need. The GP partner workforce is decreasing – I know of colleagues and practices where colleagues are either retiring early or leaving for work elsewhere.”


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.