NHS figures have revealed a significant drop in the number of GPs in England in the last year despite government pledges to swell the workforce.
Data published by NHS Digital show that the number of full-time equivalent family doctors working in the country has fallen by around 1,200 in the 12-month period to September.
Rising pressures driven by growing demand and low funding are widely being blamed for the decrease.
The figures throw a huge shadow of doubt over whether health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s 2015 promise of 5,000 more GPs by 2020 is achievable.
The Royal College of General Practitioners says the latest workforce figures are “gravely concerning”.
“We understand that change takes time, but we desperately need more family doctors and we need them sooner rather than later,” said its chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard.
"Workload in general practice has increased by at least 16% over the last seven years, but the number of GPs delivering care to patients has not risen in step.”
She also said the College would continue to work with NHS England and others to identify where improvements could potentially made, but stressed “we need to start seeing some progress, and fast.”
General practice is still facing “a stark workforce crisis with too many GPs retiring early and too few entering the profession, leaving many GP practices struggling, despite their best efforts, to provide enough appointments to patients,” said Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP England Executive Team lead on workforce issues.
“This latest fall in GP numbers demonstrates that the government needs to work with organisations like the BMA to ensure we have a coherent workforce plan that gives GP services the capacity to meet rising levels of patient demand.”