Lies, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations from Boris Johnson to Rishi Sunak

‎”We have got about 2,000 more doctors working in general practice than we did in 2019.”

Neil O’Brien, Health Minister, BBC


On the morning media round, health minister Neil O’Brien told the BBC’s Today programme that “We have got about 2,000 more doctors working in general practice than we did in 2019.”

According to NHS Digital’s figures, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) roles rose from about 34,520 in December 2019 to around 36,430 in March 2023; an increase of 1,910. 

But as Full Fact points out, this increase has been fuelled by a sharp rise in the number of trainee GPs. In December 2019, some 6,390 of the total number of FTE roles were GP trainees, and this climbed to 9,120 in March 2023; an increase of about 2,730.

Full Fact goes on to explain how some health experts, including the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), advise against including trainees when counting the total number of GPs, as trainees are expected to have dedicated education time and may carry out fewer and longer appointments than a qualified colleague. These appointments may also be supervised by fully qualified GPs, who will then not be able to see as many patients themselves.

NHS Digital’s most recent general practice workforce data shows that the number of FTE fully qualified GPs fell from 28,129 in December 2019 to 27,306 in March 2023, a drop of 823.   


Neil O’Brien, like Prime Minister Sunak, was being selective in his use of statistics when talking about the number of GPs working in the UK.

We approached the DHSC press office. They replied with statistics which they claimed substantiated Mr O’Brien’s remark while insisting we should treat these statistics as “background guidance”. We wrote back the following:

Dear Adam,

Thank you very much for your response. Unfortunately, we cannot use background guidance. We understand that “background guidance” is the practice of giving information without revealing the source.  This website is fully transparent and only deals with ministerial offices, politicians and others on the record. We would be happy to quote you as fully as you would like, but we cannot do so on the basis of “background guidance”.

However, we really appreciate you coming back to us and hope you are able to respond in a more transparent manner.

Kind Regards,James WillcocksDeputy Editor

As yet we have received no reply.

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