Shocking new figures show just one doctor for every 2,200 patients as NHS staff shortages start to bite


GPs are forced to care for 2,200 patients each due to NHS staff shortages.

3.1 million additional patients have been registered since June 2017, but the number of fully qualified family doctors has fallen by 1,343 over the same period.

This means every GP has 10% more names on their lists than five years ago.

And a postcode lottery is leaving some areas desperately short of coverage, with just one doctor to care for 3,000 patients.

The shocking figures come after NHS Digital revealed GPs were rushing for a fifth of appointments in five minutes or less.

New figures have revealed that a single GP is responsible for the care of 2,200 people, as the number of patients has increased but the number of family doctors has fallen (stock image)

Lib Dem health spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP (pictured) believes the health system is at breaking point and a plan is needed to recruit more doctors

Lib Dem health spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP (pictured) believes the health system is at breaking point and a plan is needed to recruit more doctors

The revelations will pressure ministers to honor their promise to hire 6,000 more family doctors by 2024.

“The nationwide shortage of GPs means it’s hard to get an appointment,” said Dennis Reed of Silver Voices, which campaigns for older people. “Some people give up trying, putting them at risk of deteriorating, while others will find themselves on the doorstep of busy A&Es. More needs to be done to incentivize doctors to become general practitioners and prevent experienced doctors from retiring prematurely.

“But we need to increase the number of GPs fairly, so we can end this care lottery by postcode.”

There were 58.4 million patients registered with a GP in England in June 2017, up 5.4% to 61.57 million in March this year.

Meanwhile, the number of full-time, fully qualified GPs fell by 4.6%, from 29,112 to 27,769 over the same period. This means that the number of patients per general practitioner increased by 10.46%, from 2,007 to 2,217.

Blackburn with Darwen was the worst off, with 3,004 patients per qualified GP in March, according to the Liberal Democrats’ analysis of NHS data.

By contrast, Wirral had just 1,762 patients per GP – the lowest ratio.

Even routine appointments cut by more than a third of GPs

More than a third of GP surgeries have stopped making routine appointments after being overwhelmed with calls, a survey reveals.

Family doctors say severe staff shortages and unprecedented demand have forced them to turn away sick patients. Of 824 doctors surveyed by GP Pulse magazine, 35% said their practices had stopped booking routine consultations at some point in the past year.

Dr Nick Morton, GP partner in Norfolk and Waveney, said: “We operate a safety valve system so when we are overwhelmed we stop pretending we have enough resources. Patients are referred to the walk-in center, local pharmacies or if they perceive it to be an emergency, A&E.

The system does not apply to some, notably “vulnerable and end-of-life patients”, and is not often used.

But it gives practice staff a “feeling of being able to cope with inundated demand”, Dr Morton said.

Dr Gaurav Gupta, a GP and chairman of Kent’s local medical committee, said it was ‘not surprising’ the practices were unable to deliver services.

In March, GPs in England had more than 15 million patient consultations – the highest number since records began, according to NHS Digital data.

Lib Dem health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: ‘Our health services are at breaking point following the Conservative government’s broken promise to recruit more GPs.

“People are struggling to get appointments and GPs are under more pressure than ever. We need a proper plan to recruit the GPs the country desperately needs and prevent so many doctors from leaving or retiring prematurely.

Commenting on the figures, Healthwatch England, which represents patients, said access to GP services was one of the issues most frequently raised by the public. He added: “Things have to change in the interest of patient care, staff wellbeing and the sustainability of the wider NHS.” Dr Kieran Sharrock, vice-chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: ‘With fewer doctors to treat more patients, it’s harder to see people in a timely manner and GPs share the frustration of their patients with longer waits.

“The remaining staff are forced to stretch further, risking their own physical and mental health, which then alienates them from the profession, further compounding the problem.

“We need the government to listen to and support GPs and their colleagues, and deliver on its promises to boost the GP workforce so that practices can deliver the safe, high-quality care patients deserve.”

Dr Rachel Ward, from the Rebuild General Practice campaign, described the shortage of GPs as a ‘national emergency’. She added: “Years of underfunding, neglect and broken promises by government have led to fewer GPs, at a time when there are more patients than ever.

“GPs want to provide the highest quality care to their patients, but the current situation is dangerous.

“That is why we are calling for urgent support to rebuild general medicine.”

More than a third of appointments in doctors’ surgeries were still not face-to-face in March, according to figures from NHS Digital. Many have switched to video or phone consultations during the pandemic but have not returned to normal levels. Some 81.0% of appointments took place in person in October 2019, before Covid.

This figure fell to a low of 46.7% in April 2020 and reached a recent high of 64.3% in October 2021 as restrictions were eased. But only 62.0% of the 29.6 million appointments made in March in general practitioner practices were face-to-face. This total includes surgical appointments with nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists as well as doctors. Government research shows that most GPs now only work three days a week.

The study commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care shows a “substantial” drop in hours worked since the pandemic, with just half of family doctors at work on Friday afternoon.

More than a third of doctor's practice appointments in the UK were still not face-to-face in March

More than a third of doctor’s practice appointments in the UK were still not face-to-face in March

A spokesperson for the department said the number of GPs in England had increased in recent years when considering those still in training.

They added: ‘We are working with the NHS to improve access to GPs, tackle the Covid backlog and develop the GP workforce to ensure everyone gets the care they need – including the provision of £520m to improve access and expand GP capacity during the pandemic.

‘There were over 1,400 more full-time equivalent doctors working in general practice in March 2022 compared to March 2019, a record number started training as general practitioners last year, and we have invested £1.5 billion until 2025 to create an additional 50 million appointments a year.

A survey earlier this year found that patient satisfaction with GP surgeries had fallen to its lowest level on record.

Less than four out of ten patients say they are satisfied with the service. The UK Social Attitudes Survey found that approval ratings had almost halved during the pandemic.


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