The RCGP has highlighted failings in current GP retention schemes and called for them to be urgently overhauled.
It called for an additional £150m per year to be put towards the evaluation and expansion of both national and local GP retention schemes in England, with further funding for the devolved nations.
And it said this comes as the 19,000-strong mass exodus of GPs and GP trainees it warned about in June has now risen to a potential 22,000.
In a new report on the GP workforce published today, the RCGP reported that GPs in England are struggling to access the national retention scheme, while some local areas are set to end it altogether.
The report said: ‘In England, RCGP has heard from our members who cannot get onto the scheme or have been refused access, although they feel they are eligible.
‘Since ringfenced funding ended, some local areas have reported that they believe the scheme is too expensive and therefore they won’t support it.’
And it added that while the support programmes available across the UK are ‘valuable’, they are ‘limited in scope and scale’ with a ‘highly variable’ range of support available to GPs across the four nations and ‘significant gaps at different career stages’.
The report said that more work must be done to ‘increase awareness of the retention initiatives available in each nation’, with an RCGP survey this year finding that 11% of GPs in England were ‘unaware of the national GP retention scheme and a quarter of GPs were unaware of the new-to-practice fellowship scheme’.
It added: ‘Anecdotal feedback to RCGP from GPs who have been on the new-to-practice fellowship scheme in England has been mixed.
‘Many have appreciated the additional support that a structured programme provides, but experiences have been variable across different areas.’
Meanwhile, the RCGP said that local GP retention schemes were also underfunded and ‘highly variable’.
It said: ‘In 2021/22, £12 million was made available for local retention schemes – this equated to approximately £9,600 per primary care network, far below what is needed to enable practices to support GPs.
‘Across the country, local schemes are highly variable and, in some areas, have struggled to get off the ground.’
It added: ‘These schemes are dependent on the time and resources available to the practice and the local system, which are limited. Anecdotally, some practices report simply not having the time or space to set up a local retention scheme.’
The RCGP called for:
- A comprehensive review of existing retention initiatives backed by an investment of £150 million per year in England and commensurate amounts in the devolved nations.
- The development of local retention initiatives so that every GP can access tailored support to stay in the profession for longer.
- Ensuring funding is available in every locality for GPs to access a national retention scheme for those at highest risk of leaving the profession.
- Evaluation and improvement of induction and career support programmes for early career GPs.
- The building of capacity at network or system level to introduce increased flexibility and new opportunities across local areas.
- Action to improve GP workload, in particular to support the delivery of relationship-based care.
- The expansion of multidisciplinary teams in general practice and investment in support for integration and supervision of new roles.
- The publication of improved workforce data across the UK in order to inform better workforce planning, including the rollout of a national staff survey for general practice
- The development of impactful communications for patients that demonstrate the role of the GP and help to explain what a patient can expect from their practice, including seeing different members of the team
- Protected learning time for GPs
The RCGP said that GP retention should be ‘as big a priority’ as recruitment and that without measures to address the exodus from the profession, the NHS as a whole will be forced ‘to the brink of collapse’.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘GPs are leaving the workforce at all stages in their career, with many citing exhaustion and burnout as their reasons for leaving.
‘While there has been good progress to encourage newly qualified doctors into the profession, if more GPs are leaving than joining, we’re fighting a losing battle. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle of an understaffed and under-resourced service that is unable to sustainably meet the needs of its patients.’
He added: ‘Urgent action is needed to break this cycle. The Government must make GP retention a priority.’
The RCGP said that without this ‘urgent action’, workforce shortages ‘are predicted to worsen’ with almost 22,000 GPs and trainees across the UK planning to leave over the next five years.
The report also revealed:
- Almost a quarter (23%) of GPs across the UK are so stressed they said they felt they couldn’t cope most days or every day and 22% felt this way once or twice a week – meaning almost half are feeling intense stress on a weekly basis
- 68% of GPs say they don’t have enough time to properly assess their patients
- 84% of GPs across the UK reported working more than their contracted hours at least most days, while GPs in England reported being contracted for an average 28.4 hours per week in general practice but actually working 39.5 hours per week, with 20% working at least 50-hour weeks
- 56% of GPs disagree that being a partner is an attractive role in general practice
- 53% of GPs in England do not think they are able to work flexibly in a way that allows them to meet personal needs such as family commitments or working fewer hours without retiring
Source: Results of the RCGP’s 2022 tracker survey, as reported in ‘Fit for the Future: Retaining the GP workforce‘