England saw the biggest year-on-year drop in more than three years in fully qualified GPs, despite a 2019 government manifesto pledging to recruit a further 6,000 GPs by 2025.
It comes as a former Shropshire GP, who retired in December, has warned that the profession – and its patients – will continue to struggle unless more is done to make the job more attractive.
Dr Mary McCarthy retired from her post at Belvidere Medical Practice in Shrewsbury at the end of last year, but remains a member of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the European Union of Physicians, of which she was Vice President from 2017 to 2020.
He said GP pay needed to be addressed in an effort to attract more people to the profession, in turn reducing hours and relieving stress for those currently trying to cope with the enormous levels of demand.
He warned that without improvements, doctors would leave, saying that even though it is “the best job in the world”, if he were starting now, he would not want to work in the UK.
It comes as the BMA has said the continued decline in fully-trained GPs – meaning there are now over 1,900 fewer full-time equivalent doctors than there were in 2015 – is “alarming”, and urged the government to take the situation really.
Figures from NHS Digital show there were 296 full-time equivalent GPs in the former CCG area of NHS Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin in November.
But of these, 52 were in training, meaning only 244 were fully qualified, up from 250 the year before.
Nationwide, there were 27,400 fully trained GPs in November, up from 27,900 in November 2021 and a 1.7% decline, the biggest annual drop in more than three years.
Dr McCarthy pointed to a survey of European GPs which showed that 24 per cent had responded saying their workload was ‘reasonable’, and all had a number of factors in common, not present in GP practice. United Kingdom.
They included patient lists of 1000 per GP (in the UK it’s around 2500), appointment slots of at least 20 to 30 minutes, shorter working hours and seeing around 20 to 30 patients in a day.
She said: “Doctors in this country are seeing 40, 50, 60 patients a day.
“No profession sees 40 to 50 cases a day, except GPs in the UK, and it’s dangerous, it’s dangerous for doctors to see so many because they get tired and cross paths, and it’s dangerous for patients because they’re looking at a -Doctor overworked and tired.
Dr McCarthy added: “It’s not just that we need to train more GPs, we need to make the job more attractive.”
She continued: “First get more GPs acknowledging that it’s a specialist discipline. The UK is one of four countries that doesn’t recognize GPs as specialists in family medicine. This demotes them and makes hospital doctors say ‘you’re just a GP’ when actually being a GP is the most complicated job you can have.
“They need to improve the state and they need to pay them more.
“In Western countries we value things by how much we pay for them: a cashmere jumper is supposed to be better than an acrylic one because it costs more.
“At the moment hospital doctors are paid between £16 and £24 an hour – my granddaughter’s piano teacher makes more than that. Not a fair price.”
“We need pay restored. It’s 30 percent less than ten years ago for GPs and 33 percent less for consultants.”
Dr. McCarthy said the state of healthcare was the most difficult of her career.
She said: “It’s the worst. It’s terrible. It’s just relentless, it used to be that you could finish a day and feel like you’ve finished a day’s work, but you don’t feel that anymore.”
“And it feels a bit like a war zone. It feels like a war zone where you don’t see any help coming, ever.”
She said UK doctors did not feel valued, with increasing numbers looking to work abroad.
She said: “If you think about your job, you want to be appreciated for what you do and that’s what makes you stick around and makes you loyal to your employer. If your employer, the media, the public treat you badly.” So yes, you get tired and you leave”.
“I talk to GPs who have been to Australia and ask if they would ever consider going back and they say no.”
And he added: “They say that it is not so relentless, and they all say that it is because they feel valued there and that the doctors in this country do not feel it.”
The BMA has also said that the “haemorrhage of GPs from practices in England is alarming”.
Dr Kieran Sharrock, interim chairman of the BMA England physicians’ committee, said: “Despite promises to hire 5,000, and then 6,000, more GPs, the government has now overseen the loss of the equivalent of over of 1,900 fully qualified full-time doctors in England as of 2015.
“That nearly a quarter of this loss occurred in the last 12 months alone speaks volumes for the intense pressures practices and staff are facing.”
Dr Sharrock said many GPs are having to make difficult decisions to reduce their hours or leave the profession altogether to protect their well-being as workload demands and financial strains increase.
“Instead of applying more pressure, the government needs to show that it takes this dire employment situation seriously and encourage more family doctors to stay in the profession when our communities need them most,” added Dr. Sharrock.
The total number of full-time equivalent GPs nationwide increased 1.2 percent, from 36,200 to 36,600 in the 12 months to November.
This was largely driven by a 10.8 per cent increase in the training of GPs, from 8,300 to 9,200.
In Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, the number of GPs in training dropped from 58 to 52.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it is “incredibly grateful” to GPs for their hard work.
A spokesman said at least £1.5bn will be invested to create an additional 50m citations by 2024.
“There were almost 2,300 more doctors working in general practice in September compared to September 2019 and a record number began training as GPs last year,” they added.
This figure includes trainee GPs, and the latest data shows that the total number of GPs fell by almost 400 from September to November.