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NHS reforms push third of GPs to head for exit

By Laura Passi

Exclusive: More than a third of GPs are planning to quit general practice in the next five years, with morale in the profession nose-diving in the wake of the Government's NHS reforms, a Pulse survey has revealed.

The first part of Pulse's State of the Profession Survey, published this week, paints an alarming picture of GPs' working lives, suggesting they are being forced to work longer hours, are spending less time with patients and are struggling to meet expectations as a result. Almost half of the 576 GPs who responded to the poll reported they were suffering from stress.

But it is the fallout from the Government's far-reaching NHS reforms that appears to have pushed the number of GPs looking to quit to the highest level for more than a decade, with 71% claiming morale had fallen as a direct result of the health bill and only 9% saying it had risen. Just 18% said they believe general practice is currently moving in the right direction.

The survey found 35% of GPs plan to leave the profession in the next five years – a sharp

increase from the findings of similar BMA surveys in recent years.

In 2001, the BMA warned that 25% of GPs hoped to leave within five years, while its survey of GP morale in 2007 found that 23% either hoped to retire or leave the profession within five years.

BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum told Pulse he feared low morale could lead to an exodus of senior GPs.

He said: ‘Morale isn't that good when it comes to things like pay, the threats to pensions and the various other things that are going on in the NHS.

‘One worries that actually more senior GPs will think: "Well, it's just not worth it – I'll take my pension before the blighters get hold of it and I'll retire." And then we'll lose a cohort of quite experienced GPs, which will be a great shame.'

Although 55% of GPs said they continued to gain some degree of satisfaction from their career, a third told Pulse they aim to have left by 2016.

Dr Caroline Graas, a GP in Formby, Merseyside, said: ‘I am trying to go into orthopaedic surgery and leave general practice. In the short term the workload is survivable, but I cannot do this long term.'

Dr Geeta Srivastava, a GP in Croydon, said: ‘I feel burnt out. I would have continued working till well over 65, but I feel I have done enough. I want to take my pension and enjoy it a little with my family.'

Dr Julia Hodges, a GP in Elephant and Castle, south London, was one of many to blame the fall in morale on the NHS reforms: ‘A lot of people feel quite betrayed because the story was that there would be no major top-down reorganisation, and then suddenly the biggest changes since the inception of the NHS are being discussed. I feel the changes are badly thought out and so destructive. Inevitably there has to be more rationing, more cuts, more waiting lists. I think it's going to be really unpleasant to try and commission services when the budget is shrinking rapidly.'

A Department of Health spokesperson denied the NHS reforms had contributed to falling GP morale: ‘We do not recognise these statistics. Some 220 groups of GP practices have been eager to come forward to plan an increasing role in commissioning healthcare.'

Dr Julia Hodges