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GPs ‘under considerable pressure’ and burning out

GMC highlights dangers of recruitment and retention crisis across UK

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 08 October 2014

The General Medical Council frequently heard concerns about primary care last year, it revealed this morning. It reported continuing worries about the impact of a lack of capacity and a heavy workload in several areas, and said levels of stress may be increasing as GPs feel “under considerable pressure”.

In its latest report, The state of medical education and practice in the UK report: 2014, the GMC said there had recently been a ‘huge expansion’ in the GP workforce, and a declining number of patients per GP, but the number of consultations went up by about 11% between 1995 and 2008. It found that there are many areas in England where demand for GPs outstrips supply, particularly urban and deprived areas; that because of Scotland’s lower population density some GPs there are covering wider geographical areas with very small numbers of patients; and that in Wales there is a continuing capacity problem in primary care, especially in rural areas.

The regulator pointed to the ongoing recruitment and retention problem in all four UK countries – with vacancy rates as high as 20% in some areas – and warned of a sharp rise over the past decade in the proportion of GPs approaching retirement age, in some areas.

The GMC said its regional liaison services had reported that “doctors working in primary care consider themselves to be under considerable pressure”, and that recent feedback suggests levels of stress may be increasing. Although there were differences between rural and urban areas, there were common themes – with concerns about being overloaded and some GPs being at risk of burning out. The report’s authors commented: “The reasons behind this may be more complex than simply rising demand, but the perception of the doctors involved is not in dispute and there must be a danger that negative perceptions of general practice affect the number of doctors wishing to enter GP training.”

The report also found that in 2013:

  • Women medical students outnumber men, 57% to 43%, but the growth in numbers of women attending medical school in the UK is slowing. Women now represent 49% of GPs and 32% of specialists.
  • More graduates from the European Economic Area (EEA) joined the medical register than other international medical graduates in 2013. One in three non-UK graduates came from southern Europe, mostly from Italy and Greece.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson (pictured) said: “The face of medicine is changing and it is important that those responsible for workforce planning understand the implications. Of particular concern are the potential shortages in some specialist areas where there are diminishing numbers of doctors in postgraduate training and large numbers over the age of 50. Recruitment in some parts of the UK, especially deprived areas and more remote communities is also a significant challenge.”

He went on: “It is notoriously difficult to predict future demand for doctors, but we do know that the needs of patients are changing, with many more living for years with long-term conditions ...

“The challenge for governments, educators and those who commission services must be to work together to make sure we have a medical workforce with the right skills and one which is adequately resourced, trained and supported to meet those needs.”

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