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A third of GPs plan to retire within the next five years

Politicians urged to cease ‘playing numbers game’

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A third of GPs are considering retiring from general practice within the next five years.

The figures, released today from a survey of 15,560 GPs carried out by the British Medical Association, brings into question the feasibility of election pledges from political parties promising to dramatically increase the number of GPs in the next Parliament.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA’s GP Committee described the political parties’ attempts to ‘outbid’ each other on GP numbers as ‘absurd’ and called on political leaders to ‘stop playing a numbers game’. 

These findings are the second set of results from the BMA’s largest ever survey of the profession, carried out with ICM, following last week’s focus on the pressure on GP services. The poll is being released as part of the No More Games campaign, which calls on politicians of all parties to have an honest and open public debate about the future of the NHS.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • One third of GPs (34%) are considering retiring from general practice in the next five years. Almost three in ten GPs (28%) who are currently working full time said they are thinking about moving to part time. Nine per cent of all GPs would consider moving abroad and 7% would consider quitting medicine altogether.
  • Around one in five (19%) GP trainees are considering working abroad before 2020. This comes at a time when the latest General Medical Council (GMC) figures showed that 500 GPs had begun the process of leaving the UK to work abroad.
  • Over two-thirds of GPs (68%) state that while manageable, they experience a significant amount of work-related stress. However, one in six (16%) feel their stress is significant and unmanageable.
  • GPs cite various factors that have a negative impact on their commitment to being a GP, including excessive workload (71%), unresourced work being moved into general practice (54%) and not enough time with their patients (43%).
  • Despite the pressures on general practice just under half (47%) would recommend a career as a GP, but a third (35%) would not advocate working in general practice.

“This poll lays bare the stark reality of the crisis facing the GP workforce,” said Dr Nagpaul.

“A third of GPs are considering leaving the health service in the next five years and a significant number are also thinking about reducing their working hours. It’s deeply worrying that a fifth of GP trainees, the GPs of the future, are hoping to move abroad before 2020. A sizeable number of GPs regrettably will not be recommending a career in general practice to the next generation of doctors. This is concerning as it comes at a time when 451 GP training posts were left vacant last year.”

He added: “It is clear that incredible pressures on GP services are at the heart of this problem, with escalating demand having far outstripped capacity. GPs are overworked and intensely frustrated that they do not have enough time to spend with their patients, especially the increasing numbers of older people with multiple and complex problems who need specialised care. Instead GPs are being taken away from treating patients by pointless paperwork or other work that has often been moved without proper resourcing into the community. Many GPs are facing burnout from increased stress.”

Dr Nagpaul continued: “In this climate, it is absurd that in the recent leaders’ debate, political parties were attempting to outbid each other on the number of GPs they could magically produce in the next Parliament. Since it takes five to eight years to train a GP it is not possible to create thousands of GPs in this timeframe. These pledges blindly ignore the recruitment and retention crisis that is draining the numbers of GPs we already have.

“Rather than playing a numbers game, we need politicians to focus on addressing the pressures facing GP services, so that we retain the current GP workforce and attract young doctors to become GPs. If we do not have an honest, open debate about the future of general practice, we could soon be in a situation where we do not have enough GPs to deliver effective care to patients.”

The results of the BMA Survey were similarly replicated in Scotland. Almost one third of Scottish GPs said they hope to retire in the next five years and 14% intend to move to part-time working. 

“General practice appears to be on the brink of a workforce crisis. The prospect of the relentless and rising workload along with the frustrations of bureaucracy is driving doctors out of the profession and putting young doctors off entering general practice,” said Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee.

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