The NHS has lost almost 600 GPs in the last year as its recruitment crisis continues, figures show.
Almost as many family doctors left the health service between June 2018 and June 2019 as did in the entire three years to March.
Doctors’ union the British Medical Association said falling GP numbers mean strained GPs are risking their own health to catch up with huge workloads.
Detailed figures from NHS Digital show which practices have lost or gained the most doctors, with one medical centre in London losing 31 in three months.
The losses again highlight the spectacular failure of the Government’s pledge to hire 5,000 extra GPs between by 2020.
In the three years since the Government pledged to hire 5,000 more GPs, the number of fully qualified doctors has dropped by around 1,000 (pictured) and the overall number of doctors is down by 148
The NHS figures released today show 28,257 full-time equivalent, fully qualified doctors were employed in GP practices in England in June.
This was a drop of 576 from 28,697 in March this year, and from 28,833 in June last year.
Overall, numbers are rising as locum doctors and trainees who are not yet fully qualified bring the total number of full-time GPs up to 34,114.
This was 0.8 per cent more than a year earlier but suggests staff are cutting their hours or being replaced by junior doctors who can’t yet work without supervision.
The BMA’s Dr Krishna Kasaraneni told industry news site GP Online: ‘As patient demand rises and the workforce gets smaller, GPs are taking on more work – often in excess of their contracted hours.
‘This places a huge amount of strain on GPs, who are putting their own health and wellbeing at risk to ensure their patients get the best care possible.’
As well as overstretched patient lists, doctor numbers have been hit by a row over pension rules which mean NHS employees face heavy and ‘unfair’ taxes once they’ve saved up a certain amount of money.
This has led to some cutting their hours to keep their pension contributions down and may even have triggered early retirements, unions have said.
The NHS has been in the grip of a recruitment crisis for years and is now thought to be short of around 100,000 staff, among them doctors and nurses.
Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, pledged in 2015 that the Government would head a recruitment drive to hire 5,000 more GPs by 2020.
His promise has failed and there are now about 1,000 fewer fully-qualified full-time equivalent staff and 150 fewer in total.
But his successor, Matt Hancock, said earlier this year he was still committed to the target and would soon set a new timeline to achieve it.
More detailed data released today by the NHS showed the change in GP numbers at individual practice level for thousands of surgeries across England between March and June this year.
Three practices appear to have lost more than 25 staff each in the last three months alone, although figures may be inflated by surgeries merging.
A total of 1,141 have recorded staff losses since March, with the vast majority losing one or two of their senior doctors.
Meanwhile, 1,093 practices gained doctors, with the biggest increase 17 staff in one practice.
Professor Martin Marshall, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘The number of fully-qualified GPs leaving the profession is concerning and reflects the harsh reality of what it’s like for family doctors working in NHS general practice, facing intense resource and workforce pressures on a daily basis.
‘We desperately need to see more funding for the roll out of retention schemes across the country, if we have any chance of turning this situation around.
‘Demand for GP services is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity.
‘Paired with falling workforce numbers, it creates a perfect storm that is leaving GPs stressed, burnt out, and leaving the profession earlier than planned – and our patients waiting much longer for an appointment than they should have to.’
MORE THAN 700 GP SURGERIES COULD CLOSE BY 2023
More than 2.5 million patients across England could see their GP surgeries close in the next five years, experts revealed earlier this year.
The Royal College of General Practitioners said 762 practices in the UK are at risk of closing within the next five years because at least three quarters of their doctors are aged 55 or over and approaching retirement.
Experts said so many closures would have a ‘catastrophic’ effect on the health service.
Appointment waiting times could get even longer, workloads would grow and more people could end up queueing at A&E for minor illnesses.
Campaigners warned the potential closures would be ‘dangerous’ for patients and are calling for ‘drastic action’ to encourage new GPs to join the profession.
The situation is worst in Southend in Essex, where 13 of the area’s 35 GP practices are at risk of closing, potentially affecting nearly 39,000 patients.
A third of surgeries in the London borough of Havering could shut down, and more than 85,000 patients could lose their GP in Sandwell and West Birmingham.
Only around a quarter of areas of England have no practices at risk of closure, according to the RCGP’s estimates.
Figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners have revealed 762 GP practices across the UK are at risk of closing in the next five years (Map shows the proportion of surgeries in each area which are at risk of closing)