Number of GPs working in England falls 2% to 34,100
The number of GPs working in England has decreased, new figures show.
The news will come as a blow to ministers, who have pledged to increase the number of family doctors by 5,000 by 2020.
Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show that in September last year there were 34,100 full-time equivalent GPs working within primary care in England compared with an estimated 34,700 in 2014.
The figure represents a drop of almost 2%.
When the figure includes locum doctors, the latest figure rises to 34,600.
The figures show there has been an increase in the number of nurses working at GP surgeries and a slight dip in admin workers.
There are now 15,400 full-time equivalent nursing staff in general practice - a rise of 2.2% since 2014. The number of admin and other non-clinical staff now stands at 63,700.
Last week NHS England announced a package of measures to help get general practice "back on its feet".
Patients will be urged to ''self-manage'' conditions online and see nurses and pharmacists as part of a major shake-up of GP surgeries.
NHS England has announced an extra £2.4 billion a year in funding by 2020/21 as part of its five year plan.
The boost comes after mounting pressure from GP leaders over increasing workloads and underfunding, as well as a shortage of trainee doctors willing to go into general practice.
Under the plan announced by NHS England boss Simon Stevens, GP practices will work together to manage patient demand, increase their opening hours on week nights and at weekends, and encourage patients to see professionals other than GPs.
The plan calls for a reduced burden on GPs while increasing the role of other practitioners and better "self-care" among patients.
GP practices could see an extra 1,500 pharmacists working alongside them to streamline things such as repeat prescriptions, deal with minor ailments and help people with long-term conditions. There is also a plan to bring 3,000 mental health therapists into primary care.
Overall, an extra 5,000 non-medical staff are needed over the next five years to support general practice, alongside 5,000 more GPs.
There will also be a push to retain existing GPs and those who want to work flexibly and part-time, as well as cash incentives for doctors who want to return to the field.
Commenting on the figures, Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said: "These figures further expose the crisis in general practice with GPs leaving because of unsustainable workload pressures.
"It demonstrates why it is important that NHS England's recently announced General Practice Forward View must be implemented immediately.
"It is deeply worrying that at a time of rising patient demand, especially from an ageing population, there has been a decrease in the number of GPs and staff focused on delivering patient care. The public is already seeing the impact of this in their local GP practice, with many struggling to provide enough appointments.
"Ministers cannot wait a moment longer and need to ensure that its recent promises of new funding and staff materialise as quickly as possible."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are committed to our target of 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020. NHS England is taking action to double the growth rate in GPs through new incentives for training, recruitment, retention and return to practice.
"NHS England's GP Forward View, which commits an extra £2.4 billion for general practice by 2020/21, will help to reduce the pressure on GPs and retain a healthy workforce well into the future."
Professor Nigel Mathers, honorary secretary for the Royal College of GPs, said: "With our growing and ageing population, with more and more of our patients living with multiple and long term conditions, any drop in the GP workforce is incredibly serious.
"General practice makes 90% of all NHS patient contacts. GPs and our teams are making at least 60 million more patient consultations a year than we were five years ago, but over the same period our workforce has not risen in step with demand - and we have also seen a decline in resources for our service.
"We have seen some promising signs in the latest recruitment rounds for general practice. Today's figures show just how essential it is that we build on this, and the commitment to building the general practice workforce outlined in NHS England's GP Forward View, published last week.
"We need to continue to do whatever we can to recruit more GPs, urgently implement plans to retain existing ones, and make it easier for trained family doctors to return to practice in the UK following a career break or period working abroad.
"General practice is the bedrock of the health service. We keep the NHS sustainable and our patients safe, so it's vital that we have enough GPs and practice team members to do so for years to come."