Current and future labor shortages in general practice “pose a significant risk to the quality of health care,” according to a study published by the Health Foundation think tank.
The GP workforce in England is currently estimated to be around 4,200 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs below the required level – and the study projects this shortfall will rise to around 10,700 by 2030/31 .
The nurse practitioner workforce is estimated to fall short of the needed number of approximately 1,700 FTE employees currently – and the study predicts this number will increase to approximately 6,400 over the next decade.
According to the Health Foundation study, the shortfall would rob England’s GPs and nurse practitioners of a quarter of the level needed to provide pre-pandemic standards of care.
The study warns that the government is unlikely to meet its target of hiring an additional 6,000 FTE GPs by 2024 – a fact Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has already admitted.
Instead, it predicts that the number of ‘qualified permanent GPs’ will fall by around 1,000 by 2023/24 from 2018/19 levels – and that any increase in the number of ‘doctors working in medicine general” will be based on the inclusion of significant numbers of trainees.
While effective integration of healthcare professionals such as pharmacists and physiotherapists could help reduce pressure on GPs, the study highlights that short-term demands on GPs are likely to increase rather than decrease with increased supervision and management needed for these personnel.
Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and REAL Center at the Health Foundation, said: “GP services in England are under enormous pressure. Worryingly, over the next decade things will get worse, not better, with a growing shortage of GPs and nurse practitioners.
She added: “Although these problems are not unique to England, it is essential that the government takes action to protect general practice and prevent it from becoming locked in a vicious circle of increasing workload pushing staff to leave, in turn creating more pressure on remaining staff and fueling even more departures. It must also be clear to the public that the way they access GP will need to change.
RCGP chairman Prof Martin Marshall said: ‘These findings from the Health Foundation are grim but sadly familiar reading – they show that the government needs to act to mitigate these projections and ensure that their worst-case projections do not not become a reality, which would spell disaster for patient care and the NHS as a whole.
“GPs and our teams have been working under intense workload and workforce pressures for many years, but the pandemic has exacerbated these pressures. More consultations are made each month in general medicine than before the pandemic, and the care provided is increasingly complex. Yet, although recruitment efforts mean more GPs are being trained than ever before, the number of fully trained and full-time equivalent GPs is falling.
The Health Foundation study comes just a week after the RCGP warned that a staggering 19,000 GPs could leave the profession over the next five years.
Meanwhile, the BMA has repeatedly accused the government of misleading claims about the GP workforce.