Figures have revealed the number of fully trained GPs and doctors working in Bolton - with health officials stating statistics are 'positive'.

However, the British Medical Association trade union said the GP workforce across the country is in "crisis".

NHS Digital figures show 142 full-time-equivalent fully trained GPs were working at surgeries in the former NHS Bolton CCG area in November – down slightly from 143 the year before.

In Bolton, there were also 217 full-time-equivalent doctors – up from 210 the year before and above the 207 in December 2019.

The figures follow the Government's 2019 manifesto pledge to recruit 6,000 more GPs by 2025, with the number of GPs across England dwindling since 2015.

Rob Bellingham, Chief Officer for Commissioning and Population Health at NHS Greater Manchester (GM) said: “Workforce shortages is an issue faced across the NHS, but it’s pleasing that the GP workforce statistics in Bolton are positive.

"In November, 142 full-time fully trained GPs were at surgeries in Bolton – just one less than the year before.

"And there was a total of 217 full-time doctors (not specifically GPs) – up from 210 the year above.

“This positive result is down to the work Bolton has done over the past few years to support the retention and recruitment of sufficient GPs.

"The initiatives have been designed to increase the overall capacity of the general practice workforce, make sure it is clear what career opportunities there are in Primary Care, and to promote working in Bolton specifically as a first destination career."

"Examples of these initiatives include:

"Linking with local GPST3s (GP trainee doctors) to present to them the benefits of working within Bolton and encouraging future doctors to stay within the Bolton community as GPs.

"Actively promoting the GP Retainer Scheme to encourage GPs who are considering leaving general practice to stay as part-time GPs.  

"Arranging for an expert pension advisor to provide an education session for all GPs and nursing staff to dispel myths which may lead to early retirement.

"Establishing a peer monitoring support group for newly qualified GPs in the first 5-7 years post-qualification, to encourage retention of GPs during ‘early years.’ The aim being to offer support to GPs as they transition into independent practice and give them the best possible start in their career. 

“NHS GM’s Primary Care Blueprint will help to enhance the initiatives already put in place in Bolton – with its clear five year plan for how to grow the current Primary Care workforce.

"This centres on flexible and inclusive recruitment which reflects the population it services; retaining staff through a greater focus on inclusion and engagement; health and wellbeing; and ensuring access to training and development to help people to achieve their career goals.”

Nationally, there were 27,483 fully-trained GPs in England in November – a marginal increase from the 27,392 last November.

But in September 2015, the earliest available figures, there were 29,364, meaning almost 1,900 fully trained GPs have been lost over the last eight years.

Despite the figures for Bolton looking positive, the British Medical Association trade union said the GP workforce is in "crisis" across the country and accused the Government of recruiting thousands of non-GP staff as a cheaper alternative.

Dr Julius Parker, deputy chair of the BMA's GP Committee for England, said: "There are no two ways about it, we are in the midst of a GP workforce crisis. Despite Government promises to increase GP numbers by 6,000 across England by 2024, we still have almost 1,900 fewer full-time GPs than nearly 10 years ago.

"We are having to do more work with fewer resources and are being stretched to the limit, leaving patients frustrated that they cannot always access the care they need. 

"As more people are living longer, often with multiple and complex conditions, we desperately need more GPs if we are to provide the level of care that people deserve, and we want to deliver.

“Unfortunately, the Government has chosen to focus on recruiting thousands of non-GP staff as a cheaper alternative, who aren't qualified doctors and cannot do the tasks patients rely on from general practitioners.

“The Government must prioritise GP recruitment and retention otherwise the NHS will continue to haemorrhage doctors, putting patient care and safety at risk." 

Including the 9,825 GPs in the training grade, who are not yet fully qualified, as of November, the total number of GPs in England has risen by 1.8 per cent in the last year to 37,308.

This is also above the 34,519 GPs registered in December 2019, when the Government announced its recruitment drive.

However, the number of practice staff excluding GPs has risen by 2.6 per cent in the last year, outstripping GP recruitment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "There are more than 2,600 additional doctors and 34,000 extra staff in general practice, compared to 2019. Last year also saw the highest-ever number of doctors accepting a place on GP training.

"We have reached our target of 50 million additional general practice appointments several months ahead of schedule – that is equivalent to 43 additional appointments per practice per working day.

"Through our Primary Care Recovery Plan and Long-Term Workforce Plan, we will continue to invest in our primary care workforce."

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