Falling Number Of GPs Linked To Shorter Life Expectancy

In August last year, NHS Digital data showed that for the month of June there were 33,163 GPs in England, down from the 33,686 seen in March. Between March and June, total headcount numbers were seen to decline by 488, from 41,848 to 41,360.

Between January and March 2018, 1,167 GPs (not including locums) left a practice, with just 939 joining one – 228 fewer. When excluding registrars, locums and retainers, the GP workforce figure for the country was 27,773 – and it’s worth noting that 23 per cent of those are over 55, so potential retirees could have a big impact on GP numbers in the future.

And now new research from Stanford University has revealed that the number of GPs in any given region has a bigger impact on life expectancy than other specialist doctors – which, given the figures above, could prove quite concerning for many in the UK indeed.

According to the Independent, the study found that areas with more GPs added over a month to life expectancy, significant because primary care doctor numbers have dropped behind increasing population levels and heightened patient needs, especially in rural and poorer areas in the US… which experts say also apply to us here in the UK.

Chair of the UK’s Royal College of GPs professor Helen Stokes-Lampard commented on the findings, saying: “The study reiterates just how important it is that we build the GP workforce in the UK. The NHS long-term plan has some great aspirations that will benefit patients, but if these are to be realised we need an expanded workforce to deliver it.”

A report from the Health Foundation published last year found that the UK has just 2.8 doctors per 1,000 patients, which is 28 per cent lower than the average for the EU, which currently sits at 3.9 doctors.

The government has now accepted that it is unlikely to hit the pledge made in 2015 to drive up GP numbers by 5,000 come the year 2020, after figures released last year revealed that they were 1,000 doctors further away from this target.

And attempts to encourage more people into this side of the healthcare sector are yet to prove successful, although Health Education England has now offered £20,000 golden handshakes to junior doctors who are happy to train in rural parts of the country for a fixed amount of time.

The NHS ten-year strategy does include plans for how more care will be provided closer to people’s homes and away from hospitals, but it also includes plans to use thousands of doctors and nurses from abroad to help deliver on its commitments in the short term.

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