The number of full time (FTE) staff working for the NHS in England has climbed 2.2 percent since 2015, but the number of GPs has taken a downturn, according to data published by NHS Digital.

According to the figures, at September 30 last year there were 1.20 million staff working full time in NHS Trusts, clinical commissioning groups, NHS support organisations and central bodies, and in general practice, compared to 1.17 million for the same point in 2015.

However, in contrast to Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to recruit 5,000 more GPs to help meet rising demand for services, the figures released show the total number now stands at 34,500 - marking a decrease of 0.3 percent.

In response to the figures, the British Medical Association said it is “not acceptable for the recruitment crisis in primary care to be allowed to continue”.

“These figures underline just how far we are from meeting the government’s own target of recruiting and retaining more GPs as we near the one year anniversary of the GP Forward View in England,” noted BMA education, training and workforce GP lead Krishna Kasaraneni.

“While there have been encouraging increases in other healthcare professionals in general practice, what we really need are GPs who can deliver more appointments and other frontline services to meet rising patient demand.”

He also warned of the growing uncertainty over the future status of doctors and other healthcare professionals from the EU with the triggering of Article 50.

“With almost half of the 10,000 EEA doctors working in the NHS considering leaving the UK because of the referendum result this could further reduce the number of GPs delivering care in the NHS.”

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) described the figures as a “huge blow”.

“We must be careful when comparing these with previous figures as there is no direct comparison group available – but at face value a drop of over 400 full-time equivalent GPs based on figures to December is dreadful when we so desperately need thousands more in order to cope with ever-growing patient demand,” said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the College.

“We need to turn the tide. The future of the health service and patient care relies on having a robust general practice, with enough GPs to deliver the care and services our patients need. It is clear that current efforts to recruit more GPs and make general practice an attractive profession must be stepped up further and we will continue to work with Health Education England and others to help wherever we can.”