Fact check: Rishi Sunak says there are now 2,000 more GPs compared with 2019 - is this true?
NationalWorld has fact checked the Prime Minister’s claim that there are still nearly 2,000 more GPs working now than there were in 2019.
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He was asked about the pledge as he announced plans to give more people in England access to health services like community pharmacies without needing to see their family doctor. NationalWorld has fact checked this pledge - and the Prime Minister’s claim that there are still nearly 2,000 more GPs working now than there were in 2019.
What was the pledge?
During the 2019 election campaign, Boris Johnson set out his “NHS People Plan” - aimed at growing the health service workforce in England so it could have “the support it needs in terms of numbers, training and resources”. In his manifesto, Johnson pledged that by 2024/25, the Conservatives would deliver 6,000 more doctors in general practice in England.
How many GPs are currently working in England?
At the end of 2019, when the Tories published their manifesto, NHS Digital says there were 28,319 “full-time equivalent” (FTE) GPs working 37.5 hours a week. This figure doesn’t include registrars (junior doctors who are still in training). By March 2023, the number of FTE GPs was 27,306 - a fall of around 1,000. At the same time, the number of GPs in training has gone up slightly - rising from 3,540 in 2019 to 4,032 in 2022.
What has Rishi Sunak said?
On Tuesday (9 May) the Prime Minister declined to repeat the pledge to take on 6,000 more doctors by 2024. He added that not everyone needed to see one, and insisted that measures to give more power to local pharmacies would reduce pressure on general practice.
On a visit to a GP surgery in Hampshire, he said “What we are doing on GP numbers is straightforward. Right now there are almost 2,000 more doctors working in general practice than there were in 2019.”
Is this true?
At the end of 2019, the total number of FTE GPs (including those still training) stood at 34,708. By March 2023, this stood at 36,428 - an increase of 1,720.
This shows the number of doctors has grown only because of a greater reliance on trainees, who may not be able to see as many patients - a concern raised by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP). The number of fully-qualified medics has fallen in the past four years.
There are fewer full-time, fully-qualified GPs now than there were at the last election but the overall number of doctors has grown thanks to a rise in trainees - who tend to see fewer patients.
What has Labour said?
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne accused the Conservatives of overseeing a “plan for managed decline of the NHS” - and said Mr Sunak’s refusal to recommit to hiring 6,000 new GPs was “another broken promise from the party that constantly over-promises and under-delivers”.
Labour has pledged to train an extra 7,500 doctors each year if it wins the next general election.
What do GPs say?
Professor Kamila Hawthorne - who chairs the RCGP - said that “many practices were already struggling for lack of GPs and other clinical staff, particularly in communities with large numbers of patients with complex needs and disproportionate health inequalities”.
She called for an increase in the number of “fully-qualified, full-time equivalent GPs, both in the short and long terms by training and retaining them”.
What about the ‘40 new hospitals’?
Another pledge repeated in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto was the promise to build “40 new hospitals” in England by 2030. This includes the refurbishment of existing hospitals and the addition of new wings.
In February 2023, Freedom of Information requests made by the Liberal Democrats showed that just 10 of the 40 building projects had received full planning permission. The government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, is also currently reviewing whether the scheme is likely to be good value for money.