General practice could be on the verge of a mass exodus of GPs, threatening Government plans to boost numbers through recruitment and retention, according to doctors' leaders.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGPs) estimated that 18,950 GPs and trainees were likely to leave the profession over the next 5 years, with job pressure high on the list of reasons.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said: "General practice is significantly understaffed, underfunded, and overworked and this is impacting on the care and services we're able to deliver to patients."
'Incredibly Tough' Recruitment
Earlier this month, England's Health Secretary Sajid Javid admitted that the Government's target of recruiting 6000 GPs by 2024 was proving to be "incredibly tough".
Now, an analysis by the RCGP, based on its annual tracking survey of GPs and RCGP members in England, found that problems with retention are likely to compound the problem.
Of the 1262 respondents, 42% said they were likely to quit general practice in the next 5 years, with 10% expecting to leave next year, and 19% in the next two years.
With a current workforce headcount of more than 45,000 GPs and trainees, the RCGP calculated that this could mean the loss of almost 19,000 GPs and trainees, equivalent to more than 15,000 full-time equivalent GPs.
Despite more GPs in training than ever before, with an intake of 4000 in 2021, it would be enough to counter the numbers planning to leave the profession, even if this level of intake is maintained over the next five years and all trainees enter the profession, the analysis suggested.
A recent survey for Pulse magazine found that around 47% of GPs were planning to retire at or before the age of 60. Of those, 11% said they intended to retire aged 50 to 55, with only 14% intending to retire aged 66 or over.
Stress, Working Hours, and Bureacracy
Apart from the looming demographic of older doctors heading for the exit, the RCGP said its survey results suggested that among those not planning to retire, 60% mentioned that stress, workload, working hours, and a lack of job satisfaction were factors influencing their decision to leave the profession.
Prof Marshall explained: "The intensity and complexity of our workload is escalating whilst numbers of fully qualified, full-time GPs are falling.
"The College has been sounding alarm bells about the intense pressures GPs and our teams are working under, and the urgent need for support, since well before the pandemic, but COVID has only exacerbated the situation. This is taking its toll on the health and wellbeing of GPs and other members of their teams – pushing many to consider leaving the profession earlier than planned."
The RCGP has launched a campaign, Fit for the Future, which is calling for:
- A new recruitment and retention strategy that permits going beyond the current target of 6000 more GPs
- An NHS wide campaign to free up GPs to spend more time with patients by cutting unnecessary workload and bureaucracy
- Improving patients' experience of accessing care by investing in a new suite of IT products and support for practices, making it easier for patients to choose to see the same GP or the next available member of the team
- Returning funding for general practice to 11% of total health spend, including £1 billion additional investment in GP premises
Prof Marshall said: "General practice is the bedrock of the NHS, keeping the service sustainable by making the majority of patient contacts, and alleviating pressures across the health service. But it is a profession and a service in crisis and needs urgent support."
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