The number of doctors working for the NHS in England has increased in the past year

28 October 2020
What was claimed

The statistics which show that 7,810 more doctors are working in the NHS than a year ago include thousands of medical students who are not qualified.

Our verdict

The statistics include some final year students who could register as a doctor earlier than normal, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This doesn’t mean they are “not qualified”.

What was claimed

If you removed medical students from the NHS workforce statistics, the number of doctors has actually fallen.

Our verdict

Incorrect. The number of doctors working for the NHS in England has increased if these final year students are excluded, although to a lesser extent.

“Boris Johnson & Matt Hancock just tweeted its [sic] “fantastic” news 7,810 more doctors are now working in our NHS than a year ago.“Both “forget” to mention that figure includes thousands of medical students not qualified doctors!”

Last week, the government heralded new workforce figures from the NHS in England, claiming that the number of doctors has risen by 7,810 compared with last year.

Various people on social media claimed this figure includes numerous medical students who are not yet qualified doctors, and that if medical students are removed from the statistics there has actually been a fall.   

Some medical students are included in these statistics (as the government’s press release acknowledges), but it is incorrect to say that there has been a fall if these students are discounted. 

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What types of doctors are there?

In the UK, people wishing to become a medical doctor will first complete an undergraduate medicine degree.

After this they do two years of “foundation training” which the NHS says is essentially someone’s “first paid job as a doctor.”

Usually, doctors can only be fully registered with the General Medical Council after completing the first year of foundation training.

However due to the Covid-19 pandemic, doctors in their first year of foundation training were offered the opportunity to become fully registered, and some final year medical students were offered early provisional registration allowing them to be employed in hospitals. 

Following foundation training, doctors go on to either specialise or train further in general practice.

What do the statistics show?

The statistics refer to the number of full-time-equivalent staff working for NHS England. The number of “doctors” in July 2020 was up by 7,810, or 7%, compared to July 2019.

Of this increase, 1,948 is made up of doctors in their first year of foundation training, or who are final year graduates fast-tracked into their foundation training due to Covid-19. 

We can’t break that down further to separate out just the final year students, but if all these doctors are discounted, the number of doctors has still increased since last year, but to a lesser extent (by 5,862 or 6%).

It should be noted that the statistics for doctors in the first year of foundation training do not include all students in undergraduate medical training, just those final year students who were allowed to, and opted in to being fast tracked. 

The government’s press release also notes that the July figures show 80 doctors who returned to the NHS to help with the pandemic response. Not all returners are reflected in the monthly workforce statistics as they could have been employed on fixed-term, honorary or bank contracts, or via the NHS Professionals staff banks.

Finally, it’s worth noting that none of these figures include GPs, as GPs are not NHS England employees but technically independent contractors to the NHS. The number of full-time equivalent GPs has fallen by 600 (or 2%) since last year. 

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