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Publication, Part of

General Practice Workforce 31 July 2021 - Provisional

Official statistics

Background Data Quality Statement

Introduction

The figures presented in this publication are a snapshot of GPs, Nurses, Direct Patient Care (DPC) and administrative staff working in general practice at the end of the reporting period, which includes any staff on fixed term or zero hours contracts.  While this publication relates only to July 2021, we have left information here regarding the timeseries as an easy point of reference for those users making use of previous publications. 

Annex B of the Excel Bulletin provides information about GPs working in an ad-hoc or short-term capacity as it is important to understand the extent of their contribution to general practice. However, we do not include counts of these ad-hoc locums (also sometimes known as sessional GPs) in the main publication totals for reasons described in the Using this publication section which contains more details about the ad-hoc locum workforce.

We collect information about job role, contracted and working hours, gender, age, and ethnicity, but no information relating to earnings or expenses. 

We always recommend that you use the most recent publication for up-to-date and time-series figures. Furthermore, in June 2021 we implemented a range of methodological changes (please refer to the Methodological change notice for details) and have revised the entire time series back to September 2015. Although the earlier publications are available from the publication archive, we encourage all users to refer to current figures.


Data completeness

We collect record-level data directly from general practices using the National Workforce Reporting Service (NWRS) which is an online collection system. Please see https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/areas-of-interest/workforce/national-workforce-reporting-system-nwrs-workforce-census-module/the-new-national-workforce-reporting-service for more details about this tool.

Although it is a contractual requirement for practices to submit their workforce data, not all practices do so although the completeness and coverage of the data set has increased since the first collection in September 2015 when only 88.1% of practices submitted data.

Until December 2018, we received data about some practices from four Health Education England (HEE) regions which collected workforce data directly from the practices in their regions although only three submitted data for the September 2015 collection.

Table 4 shows the count and percentage of practices submitting data and the overall coverage and it is notable that the completeness of the collection increased dramatically for December 2016.

Table 4: Data submission and coverage

 

 

NWRS

HEE

No data

Total

 

Practices

%

Practices

%

Practices

%

Total Practices

% practices covered

Sep-15

5,607

73.1

1,154

15

916

11.9

7,674

88.1

Mar-16

5,473

71.9

1,584

20.8

556

7.3

7,613

92.7

Sep-16

5,414

71.9

1,542

20.5

571

7.6

7,527

92.4

Dec-16

5,426

72.5

1,917

25.6

140

1.9

7,483

98.1

Mar-17

5,314

71.3

2,020

27.1

120

1.6

7,454

98.4

Jun-17

5,156

69.4

2,155

29

114

1.5

7,425

98.4

Sep-17

5,051

68.6

2,215

30.1

95

1.3

7,361

98.7

Dec-17

4,999

68.4

2,208

30.2

104

1.4

7,311

98.6

Mar-18

4,955

68.1

2,208

30.4

108

1.5

7,271

98.5

Jun-18

4,927

68.3

2,196

30.4

93

1.3

7,216

98.7

Sep-18

5,684

79.1

1,405

19.6

93

1.3

7,182

98.7

Dec-18

5,866

82.8

1,179

16.7

36

0.5

7,081

99.5

Mar-19

6,977

99.5

-

-

35

0.5

7,012

99.5

Jun-19

6,848

99.2

-

-

52

0.8

6,900

99.2

Sep-19

6,838

99.6

-

-

29

0.4

6,867

99.6

Dec-19

6,813

99.7

-

-

23

0.3

6,836

99.7

Mar-20

6,749

99.7

-

-

22

0.3

6,771

99.7

Jun-20

6,657

99.7

-

-

17

0.3

6,674

99.7

Sep-20

6,629

99.7

-

-

21

0.3

6,650

99.7

Dec-20

6,595

99.7

-

-

21

0.3

6,616

99.7

Mar-21

6,555

99.7

-

-

21

0.3

6,576

99.7

Jun-21

6,545

99.6

-

-

26

0.4

6,571

99.6

 

We ask practices to ensure that information about their workforce and details of any ad-hoc locums that worked at the practice during the reporting period are up to date at the end of each month and extract the data automatically.

The NWRS has inbuilt data validation functionality to reduce data entry errors such as limiting job roles to those within the Workforce Data set (NWD), checking the format of national insurance numbers or ensuring only numbers are entered for numeric fields.

In some cases, practices provide staff details but do not include information about working hours and in these cases, we calculate full-time equivalent (FTE) estimates (referred to as partial estimates) as described in the Using this publication section.

However, we do not calculate estimates where practices have not provided any workforce data.

Impact of COVID-19

There is some evidence to suggest that the completeness and coverage of the data extracted from the NWRS for March and June 2020 were adversely affected by a range of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is likely that the exceptional pressures on the general practice workforce meant not all practices were able to update their NWRS data in time for the extracts on 31 March and 30 June 2020. However, from September 2020 onwards, we are confident practices had returned to normal levels of NWRS data completion in time for each quarterly extract.

Nonetheless, the possible impact of the data quality issues should be taken into consideration when considering figures for these two quarters.

 

 


Accuracy

We have been collecting individual-level data from GP practices and publishing this series of Official Statistics since September 2015 when a new data source was introduced, and we have been working closely with practices to improve the quality, completeness and coverage of the data submitted.

All GP practices are contractually required to provide data on their workforce. However, a small number of GP practices do not do so or submit incomplete data. In addition, some records fail data validation and are excluded. The completeness and coverage of the collection has improved since September 2015 when only 88.1% of practices submitted data; this percentage had reached 99.6% by July 2021.

Estimates

We collect information about the general practice workforce directly from practices using a live, online collection tool. The completeness and coverage of the data collection has improved since we first collected wMDS in September 2015, but nonetheless there are still some data quality considerations.

We calculate estimated FTE figures for otherwise valid staff records where no information about contracted or average working hours has been provided. The estimates are calculated using the national average FTE for the applicable job role. We refer to these figures as ‘partial estimates’ and the scale of these estimates varies by staff group. Annex A in the Excel Bulletin tables shows the percentage of partially estimated figures for each staff group.

In addition, the figures include some fully estimated records for GPs in training and locums:

  • Following the introduction of Health Education England’s (HEE) Trainee Information System (TIS) as the data source for GPs in training, we calculated some estimates for missing data for September 2015 to March 2018. This is discussed in further detail in the GPs in Training (formerly referred to as GP registrars) section. These estimates are available only at a national level and regional figures from June 2018 onwards are not comparable with earlier figures.
  • Early in 2017 we introduced new guidance relating to recording data about the locum GP workforce and in March 2017 we noticed a large increase in their numbers. Following a consultation with stakeholders, we calculated FTE estimates for the locum GP workforce to account for records that should have been submitted between September 2015 and December 2016. These figures are published at CCG level but are available only at a high-level and do not include personal characteristic such as gender or age so caution should be used when considering such breakdowns in earlier reporting periods. There remains a small ‘step change’ between December 2016 and March 2017, but the overall counts of GP FTEs are believed to be consistent and comparable.
    • It was not possible to calculate estimated headcount figures for these locum GPs so there is an unavoidable break in the headcount time series between December 2016 and March 2017. Please refer to the Locums section in the Using this publication section.
  • Due to data quality issues with the ad-hoc locum data collection in the last quarter of 2020, the ad-hoc locum figures in Annex B of the Excel Bulletin tables include some estimated FTE figures for December 2020. However, it is not possible to calculate headcount estimates for these ad-hoc locum GPs.

When we create estimates in this way, we do not allocate the records any personal characteristics such as age, gender, or country of qualification information; but report these against the ‘Unknown’ category. This means that figures by these personal characteristics are not comparable across time periods.

Known issues

We are aware that some practices make retrospective changes to their workforce data after we have already extracted their information and published the statistics, for example, by changing a job role or start date. We reflect any such changes from the release of subsequent statistics, but we cannot retrospectively amend the time series as this would result in all figures being continually subject to revision. However, the scale of records affected by such retrospective changes has been found to be generally stable across quarters.

The collection includes details of staff on long-term absence, for example due to sickness or maternity/paternity leave. It is possible that FTE and headcount figures for all staff groups are inflated by the inclusion of temporary staff – such as locum GPs – that work at practices to cover for these staff absences. Although we used to collect information about staff absence, the data completeness was very low and it was not possible to adjust FTE and headcount numbers to mitigate for this potential double-counting. We are not currently collecting details of staff absence and the feasibility of any future such analysis is under review.

From June 2021 onwards, we have removed the FTE and headcount figures of ad-hoc locums from the overall totals, and are publishing them separately in Annex B  of the Excel Bulletin for England. Although these GPs provide an immensely valuable contribution to general practice, including them in the figures is likely to result in double-counting, which distorts our understanding of capacity within the general practice workforce and inflates the rate of GPs per 100,000 registered patients. This is because many of the sessions worked by these ad-hoc locums are to cover for the short-term absence of other GPs who usually work in the practice and are therefore also included in the practice’s total workforce figures.


Comparability and coherence

We have been collecting individual-level data and publishing the General Practice Workforce series of Official Statistics since September 2015 when a new data source was introduced and figures in this series are not comparable with any general practice workforce figures based upon previous data sources.

As described in the Using this publication section, it is not always possible or appropriate to compare figures over time.

We urge anyone considering GP workforce statistics, to make any comparisons only across full years, for example September to September, rather than from one quarter or month to the next. This is because data is affected by seasonal variation. In this release - the first to provide statistics related to the month of July - only figures for July 2021 are presented.

In addition, the inclusion of some estimated figures for GPs in training and locum GPs mean that not all figures in the times series are comparable back to the beginning of the data collection.

Table 5 shows the earliest point at which year-on-year may be made:

  • As outlined in the Using this publication section, where GP counts include GPs in training, estimates for September 2015 to March 2018 mean that regional comparisons can be made only from June 2018.
  • Similarly, where locum counts are included, there is an unavoidable break in the headcount time series and year-on-year figures are comparable only from December 2017.

 

Table 5: Earliest date in this publication series where year-on-year (whole year) figures may be compared

General Practitioner groupings:

From (England-level)

From (Region-level)

All GPs

Sep-15 FTE

March-17 HeadcountA,B

Jun-18C

Fully Qualified GPs (excludes GPs in training)

Sep-15 FTE

March-17 HeadcountA

Sep-15 FTE

March-17 HeadcountA

Regular GPs (excludes Locums)           

Sep-15B

Jun-18C

Qualified Permanent GPs (excludes GPs in training & Locums)

Sep-15

Sep-15

 

 

 

General Practitioner job roles:

 

 

GP Partners

Sep-15

Sep-15

Salaried GPs

Sep-15

Sep-15

GPs in training

Sep-15B

Jun-18C

GP Retainers

Sep-15

Sep-15

GP Locums

Sep-15 FTE

Mar-17 HeadcountA

Sep-15 FTE

Mar-17 HeadcountA

 

 

 

High level Staff Groups (not at job role level):

 

 

All Nurses

Sep-15

Sep-15

All Direct Patient Care

Sep-15

Sep-15

All Admin/non-ClinicalD

Sep-15

Sep-15

  1. Adjustment applied to September 2015 to December 2016 data to account for an improvement in GP locum recording.
  2. Adjustment applied to September 2015 to March 2018 data to account for a changing data source for GPs in training.
  3. Change in data source of GPs in training led to a notable reduction in GPs in training of 'unknown' location and region.
  4. Some records within the Admin/non-Clinical staff group could not allocated to a specific job role in September 2016 and were therefore categorised as Not Stated for that reporting period. As a result, job role figures are comparable only from December 2016.

Time series figures

All published data are comparable with the same point in earlier years unless otherwise stated and shown notably by a vertical line in the Excel Bulletin tables.

There is a break in the headcount time series for locum GPs at March 2017 that affects the figures for locums, All GPs and All Fully Qualified GPs.

There are also two breaks in the headcount and full-time equivalent (FTE) time series for Admin/Non-Clinical staff role-level figures, due to the presence in September 2016 of multiple Admin/Non-Clinical records with a ‘Not Stated’ staff role.

Impact of ‘unknown’ data

In some cases, staff records may not include details of age, gender, ethnicity, or other characteristics and in such cases, we report the FTE and headcount figures as ‘Unknown’. Therefore, figures by these personal characteristics are not comparable over time.

 

 

 


Relevance

The relevance of NHS workforce data is maintained by reference to working groups who oversee both data and reporting standards. Major changes to both are subject to approval by the Data Coordination Board (DCB) which replaced the Standardisation Committee for Care Information (SCCI) from 1 April 2017.

Significant changes to workforce publications (e.g., frequency or methodology) are subject to consultation, in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.


Accessibility

We release figures in Excel spreadsheets, CSV files and in an interactive Power BI Visualisation. Tables include footnotes as necessary.


Timeliness and punctuality

We publish figures as quickly as possible after extract and announce our publication schedule on our website at https://digital.nhs.uk/services/organisation-data-service/data-downloads/production-schedule.

From July 2021,  main workforce figures are published monthly. However, we release some regional and experimental figures less frequently and will include details of the planned content in the Changes in this series section.


Performance cost and respondent burden

We ask practices to maintain their workforce data on an ongoing basis so that the information in NWRS is always complete and up-to-date. We extract the data automatically at midnight on the last working day of each month, which may fall on a weekend or public holiday.

Currently, practices do not need to actively submit figures, although it is anticipated that new NWRS functionality will be introduced later in 2021 that will enable practices to affirm the accuracy of their submitted data, or to confirm that where no updates have been made, there have been no changes to their workforce and no ad-hoc locums worked at the practice during the reporting period.

The data collection has been reviewed by NHS Digital's Burden Advice and Assessment Service (BAAS) process which is part of the assurance process that all organisations asking to collect health or adult social care data must complete.

All collections must be approved by the Data Coordination Board (DCB) which is responsible for all governance arrangements for information standards, data collections and data extractions.


Confidentiality, transparency and security

We apply NHS Digital’s data security and confidentiality policies when we produce our publications. Where necessary, we apply statistical disclosure control to maintain confidentiality.

 


Users and uses

This publication is of interest to a wide range of organisations and stakeholders to make local and national year-on-year comparisons.

This data is vital in addressing the current workforce pressures in primary care and securing a well-trained workforce for the future. Workforce Minimum Data Set (wMDS) publications are used to form an accurate picture of the current workforce to provide a clear understanding of current skills and capacity in primary care.

We welcome your comments and feedback via email to PrimaryCareWorkforce@nhs.net.


Table conventions

FTE figures are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Totals may not add to the sum of their components as a result of rounding.

We use the following symbols in tables:

..          not applicable

-           zero

0          greater than zero but less than 0.5

ND      No data

|           A time-series break, i.e., figures either side of the break are not comparable



Last edited: 25 October 2021 12:20 pm