More than 500 family doctors left the NHS between March and June this year, quitting at a rate of more than 43 per week.
NHS figures have revealed the number of full-time GPs working in England fell from 33,686 to 33,163 during the spring.
Experts have said the doctors’ departures will be ‘demoralising and distressing’ for other medics around the country.
People in England continue to struggle to make appointments with their doctors, and one desperate man this month resorted to visiting his cat’s vet about a rash on his chest.
However, yearly figures showed the overall number of staff working in the NHS is on the rise and 19,800 people were hired in the past year.
GPs left the NHS at a rate of more than 43 per week between March and June this year, according to official health service statistics
The loss of 523 GPs between March and June means the remaining doctors must take on an average of 26 new patients each.
There is now approximately one doctor for every 1,651 people in England.
The numbers released by NHS Digital suggest the government may find it difficult to hit its target of hiring an extra 5,000 doctors by 2020, the BMJ reports.
Leading doctors say there are more GPs in training than ever but those already in work are regularly working 12-hour days and getting burned out and quitting.
And as doctor numbers drop, people find they have to wait longer to get appointments – the number of people waiting more than a week has nearly doubled since 2012.
‘This is demoralising and distressing for other GPs’
‘These figures will be demoralising and distressing for GPs and our teams across the country who are striving to deliver care to over a million patients a day,’ said Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.
Professor Stokes-Lampard says medical staff are working ‘without the resources or workforce to do so in a way that is safe for patients or for themselves’.
40 PER CENT OF DOCS COULD QUIT WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
A record 40 per cent of GPs are considering quitting within the next five years and more than half want to cut their working hours, experts revealed in May.
Research by the University of Manchester involving 1,134 GPs found that 39 per cent had a ‘considerable intention’ to leave their jobs within five years.
It was the highest percentage since the survey began in 2005, and twice as many as that year when just 19 per cent were contemplating quitting.
The research also found that 14 per cent of GPs under 50 were considering leaving, up from just 6 per cent in 2005.
Another 57 per cent of doctors hope to reduce their working hours in the next five years, with only 7 per cent wanting to increase them.
A total of 445 practices have shut or merged since 2013 including 130 during the course of 2017, and patients are feeling the effects in longer waiting times.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee said at the time: ‘GP workload has reached a point where doctors feel they can no longer provide safe high-quality care.’
‘GPs are telling us that they are routinely working 12-hour days in clinic and making upwards of 60 patient contacts a day,’ she said.
‘Demand is escalating both in volume and complexity, and many practices are already struggling to fill vacancies.
‘The workload is not safe and GPs are burning out’
‘It is not safe, and it is causing GPs to burn out, driving them out of the profession, and it means our patients are having to wait longer and longer for appointments.’
The GP Patient Survey 2018 revealed earlier this year that people are finding it increasingly difficult to see their family doctor.
The proportion of patients waiting more than a week to see a GP nearly doubled from 12.8 per cent in 2012 to 23.8 per cent this year.
And the number of patients finding it ‘not very easy’ or ‘not at all easy’ to get through to their GP surgery by phone has increased from 19 per cent to almost 30 per cent between 2012 and 2018.
More than a quarter report giving up altogether – 28 per cent have stopped trying on at least one occasion, up from 15 per cent just a year earlier.
Desperate Brighton man visited a vet about his chest rash
MailOnline revealed earlier in August that a man in Brighton made an appointment with his cat’s vet because he couldn’t see a doctor.
The unnamed man made the appointment to discuss a rash on his chest but was told the vet could not diagnose or treat him.
But the vet did give him a flea treatment for his cat in case that was to blame for the skin trouble.
Total NHS staff numbers are up nearly 20,000
Despite the drop in GP numbers, NHS staff on the whole rose by 1.6 per cent – 19,800 new employees – during the year to March 2018.
Full-time equivalent nurses and health visitors are down, but there are now more midwives, clinical support workers, infrastructure staff, managers and senior managers, and nurses in general practices.
Responding to the concerns about GP shortages, a Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We recognise the invaluable contribution of GPs and we are determined to build a strong workforce.
‘That’s why we are investing an extra £2.4bn a year into general practice by 2021, with record numbers of doctors in training and NHS England planning to recruit an extra 2000 overseas doctors.’