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‘Four in 10’ GPs want to leave the profession in the next five years

Four in 10 GPs intend to quit general practice in the next five years, according to a new study.

A survey conducted by the University of Warwick revealed that 40% of the 929 GPs surveyed want to leave the profession within the next five years, an increase of nearly a third since 2014.

GPs who responded to the survey suggested that interventions to improve GP retention included ‘increased funding, more GPs, better education of the public and expanding non-clinical and support staff.’

The recent contract announcement in England made commitments for more support staff, but the most recent GP recruitment figures found the number of fully qualified full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs has dropped by 2% over the past year .

Published in BMJ Open, the survey focused in the Wessex region in England, the same area as a similar survey conducted in 2014 to allow for comparisons.

The study revealed that, compared to their plans two years ago, 49% had brought forward their plan to leave general practice and 18% intended to retire in the next two years.

This compares with the 2014 survey,  showed out of 1,398 participants, 32% planned to retire in the next five years, 20% were going to retire earlier than planned, and 13% were planning on retiring within two years.

The report identifies similarities from surveys in other regions such as 41% of GPs in the West Midlands and 37% of GPs in South West England intending to leave general practice in the next 5 years.

Work intensity and workload were among the top reasons for leaving general practice, the survey shows, with 51% of participants reporting working longer hours than two years prior.

The study’s authors said: ‘Views from our survey would suggest that many of the changes in the long-term plan, such as greater funding for general practice, increasing the GP workforce, and increasing clinical and support staff in general practice, are desperately needed. But in the context of low and worsening morale and job satisfaction, the question is can these be introduced quickly enough now to stem the flow of GPs who are bringing forward their plans to leave the NHS.’

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This is yet another worrying report about the state of the GP workforce crisis and these findings are consistent with other surveys which give rise to growing concerns for practices and their patients.

He continued: ‘Added to this is the fact that almost nearly one in every two GPs are over the age of 45. The medical workforce is ageing, and many experienced older doctors are finding that working in today’s NHS is too taxing on their work-life balance and can have a detrimental impact on their health and wellbeing, causing some to seek early retirement. It comes as no surprise that many want to quit within the next five years, and now is a critical time to address the underlying issues that are causing GPs to want to leave the profession.’ 

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘There is some great work ongoing to increase recruitment into general practice, and we now have more GPs in training than ever before – but when more family doctors are leaving the profession than entering, we are fighting a losing battle.

She added: ‘The NHS long-term plan has aspirations that will be good for patients – but we will need the workforce to deliver it. The forthcoming NHS workforce strategy for England must contain measures to help retain GPs in the workforce for longer – steps to reduce workload to make working in general practice more sustainable and removing incentives to retire early for GPs who might not necessarily want to would both be sensible places to start.’

Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP said the figures highlight the ongoing crisis in our GP service.

He said: ‘Properly resourced general practice is absolutely key to keeping people well and relieving wider pressures on the NHS. Yet having spent time on the front line with GPs, it’s obvious morale is low – our GPs are overworked and under resourced with many experiencing burn out.’

Mr Ashworth continued: ‘It’s time for a sustainable, fully resourced, funding solution for GPs and community care, along with credible measures to retain existing staff and recruit for the future. Ministers must act, otherwise patients will lose out once again.’

An RCGP survey in December last year found a third of the 1094 GPs surveyed across England will quit within the next five years.

Around the same time, Pulse reported the number of GPs retiring before 60 had slowed down, according to figures from the NHS pension scheme.