The UK must stop ‘haemorrhaging’ GPs, who are ‘voting with their feet’ to go work abroad, the GMC chief has warned.
In a speech today to the NHS Providers conference, chief executive Charlie Massey referred to recent GMC analysis which showed burnout to a be a major factor contributing to GPs deciding to leave UK general practice.
On the whole, doctors decide to leave the UK for eight main reasons, the GMC’s research found (see box), none of which are actually related to a wish to stop practising medicine.
These included doctors seeking better pay, but also those who have become ‘disillusioned’ with the UK’s health system.
In response, Mr Massey called on healthcare leaders and employers to act now to stop the ‘senseless waste’ of talent.
He said: ‘What this research tells us is that many doctors are not leaving UK practice because they have fallen out of love with medicine. Instead, it is because they can’t tolerate the environments in which it is practised. The problem is not their work, it is their workplace.
‘This is a senseless waste of talent, not least because these issues are preventable. With a focus on compassionate, supportive cultures, they can be put right. This will not only improve doctors’ wellbeing, but also their productivity. Happier workers are better workers, and they deliver better results.’
A ‘good first step’ to improve the situation would be to reform rules so doctors in non-training roles can work in general practice, Mr Massey added.
Last month, the GMC called on the governments of the UK to change legislation to make it easier for qualified doctors to enter the GP register to solve recruitment problems within the profession.
This would enable GP practices to recruit staff and associate specialist (SAS) doctors from the UK or potentially directly from overseas, the regulator suggested.
GMC research suggests ‘around half’ of doctors who give up their licence to practise in the UK each year intend to continue their medical career abroad.
GMC researchers identified ‘key trigger moments’ for departing doctors, which they said included:
- Personal – including wellbeing issues, life stages such as buying a home, divorce or children leaving home, or financial issues.
- Professional – including negative workplace incidents, reaching a career crossroads, being headhunted or approached by a recruiter, witnessing the overwork, poor health or even death of a colleague.
- Sociopolitical – including Brexit, political decisions impacting the NHS and visa issues for them and their families.
Mr Massey said: ‘There is no cavalry coming over the hill. The next few years will arguably be the hardest the NHS has ever faced, harder even than the pandemic. Resolving the issues that brought us here will require huge resolve and commitment.
‘There are more than 350,000 doctors on our register. Think what a difference it would make if every one of them stayed in UK practice even six months longer. The benefits would be vast. So, it is time for all of us to roll up our sleeves. Watching our health services haemorrhage talent is not an option. We simply don’t have the luxury of being defeatist.’
Last week, GMC was among regulators who said they will take into account winter pressures when investigating complaints against doctors relating to their practise during the ‘difficult time’ that will be the coming months.
Why doctors leave the UK
- Burnt-out GPs: while many doctors in our study mentioned experiencing burnout, there were some specific issues in primary care driving GPs to migrate.
- Career-limited doctors: international mid-career doctors who felt that they had exhausted all possible career opportunities in the UK.
- Disheartened EU and international doctors: doctors in their mid-career, often with young families, who recounted negative experiences at work, directly or indirectly, in relation to their identity as a foreign national living and working in the UK.
- Disillusioned doctors: mostly UK-trained doctors in their mid to late career who were driven to migrate due to frustrations with the health system in the UK.
- Internationally mobile doctors: consultants in their mid-career who had plenty of previous experience abroad, working in different countries whenever the opportunity allowed or when administrative or visa issues determined.
- Older explorers: older doctors who had spent most of their career working within the NHS, seeking adventure, a new professional experience or a challenge.
- Salary seekers: typically made up of men in their 40s who had come to a point within their career when they realised that their current salary and future salary prospects were not sufficient to sustain the quality of life they desired.
- Young explorers: this group was made up of early-career, UK-trained doctors who typically had travel in mind from medical school, seeking fun and adventure.