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GPs 'Pushed to Breaking Point' as Workforce Numbers Dwindle

Unmanageable workloads, professional 'burnout', and a shortage of doctors are leading to a crisis in general practice, a GP group has warned.

A new poll of GPs in England, Wales, and Scotland found that more than half had lost staff over the last 5 years due to work pressures, abuse, and mental health issues.

The Rebuild General Practice campaign called on the Government to deliver on its commitment to recruit an additional 6000 GPs in England by 2024, and to tackle the issues that were driving existing doctors out of the profession.

The call came as latest official figures showed there were 369 fewer fully qualified GPs in England in March 2022 compared with the same month last year.

GPs 'Pushed to the Brink'

The online survey of 1395 GPs, conducted in early March by James Law Research Associates on behalf of the campaign group, found that:

  • 84% had experienced anxiety, stress, or depression in last year
  • 24% knew of colleagues who had taken their own lives because of work pressures
  • 56% of GPs and their staff had been abused while working in the last year

Polling also found that only 10% of Welsh GPs, and 11% of Scottish GPs, believed their practice was safe for patients at all times, with the majority saying the situation was deteriorating.

In England, analysis by the British Medical Association (BMA) suggested that 2000 full-time equivalent GPs had been lost since 2015. That, coupled with rising patient demand, had contributed to English GPs seeing 46 patients a day, above the 25 considered safe, the campaign group said.

Welsh GPs were seeing an average of 33 patients a day, which was eight above the safety limit, while their colleagues in Scotland saw 28 patients a day – three above the safety limit, according to the same BMA source.

'A Crisis for GPs'

Dr Rachel Ward from the Rebuild General Practice campaign said: "This is a crisis for GPs and an emergency for patients.

"Years of underfunding and neglect has severely damaged general practice leaving us with a skeleton staff across Great Britain and no plan for filling the gaps.

"Meanwhile, patient appointments are at an all-time high. As GPs we are trying to find solutions, and we are crying out for help – for our patients, but also as human beings who are simply trying to offer excellent care and look after our communities."

To highlight their concerns ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, the GP group has released a short video in which doctors speak out about concerns for themselves and their colleagues and appeal to the Government to recruit and retain more GPs.

Shrinking GP Workforce

Figures released by NHS Digital on Thursday showed there were 27,769 fully qualified GPs in England in March this year, a decrease of 1.3% over 12 months.

Commenting on the data, Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP committee deputy chair, said: "Last month, appointments in England were up by 4 million - while GP numbers continued to spiral downwards. This is completely untenable for practices, for GPs and for patients.

"Compared with this time a year ago, England has the equivalent of 369 fewer full-time, fully qualified GPs – having lost 30 in the most recent month alone. This means each day there is one less doctor for patients to see.

"On top of that, we have lost almost 1600, fully-qualified, full-time equivalent GPs since 2015.

"This trend, of demand rocketing while we haemorrhage doctors, is pushing the remaining staff to breaking point as they take on more and more each day, to a point which is not safe for them, and certainly not safe for patients."

The campaign is funded by the British Medical Association and the General Practitioners Defence Fund. 

Lead Image Credit: Teeradej Srikijvilaikul/Dreamstime