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Mass exodus of GPs compromises patient safety

Almost 8% of GPs leave the frontline, says RCGP

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 03 July 2014

Record numbers of doctors in England are leaving general practice due to “ballooning workloads”.

Almost 8% of the entire GP workforce left frontline patient care in the latest year for which figures are available, the Royal College of General Practitioners has warned today. 

The RCGP says this “mass exodus” could spell disaster for the future of patient safety.

By the end of 2013, there were 35,561 GPs in England. This was down on the number in post in 2009, when there were 35,917. This is the biggest exodus of GPs on record. Six years ago just 4.7% GPs (or 1,583 individual doctors) left the profession. However, by 2012/13 the proportion of GPs turning their back on the profession had leapt to 7.7% (or 2,726 individual doctors).

RCGP Chair, Dr Maureen Baker said: “The mass exodus of GPs – driven by soaring demand and plummeting resources – is a clear and present danger to patient safety.

“GPs across the country are wilting under the weight of ballooning workloads, with thousands of being driven to retire early or emigrate to practice in less stressful settings. 

“Not only is this a tragedy for patients, but it is also a waste of public money – as it costs £247,000 to put a family doctor through post-graduate training.

“Unless we can stop GPs leaving the profession we simply will not be able to cope with the continuing explosion in demand – which it is estimated will generate an additional 37m requests for consultations from patients in England over the next three years.”

The College says that a toxic mix of increased demand – caused by a growing and ageing population – and plummeting levels of resource has led to thousands of GPs having to work at unsustainable levels to try to meet patient demand.

According to polling, conducted on behalf of the College, 96% of family doctors believe that working in general practice is more stressful now than it was five years ago and 22% have had to seek support, guidance or advice for work-related stress.

During the last six years for which records are available thousands of GPs have left the profession:

  • In 2008/09, 4.7% (1,583) of GPs left the profession
  • In 2009/10, 7.1% (2,477) of GPs left the profession
  •  In 2010/11, 6.4% (2,249) of GPs left the profession
  • In 2011/12, 6.9% (2,451) of GPs left the profession
  • In 2012/13, 7.7% (2,726) of GPs left the profession

The number of family doctors leaving general practice has increased across all age ranges, particularly those in their thirties and forties who are in the middle of their careers.

The College is calling on the government to increase resources to general practice. 

“Ultimately, if general practice tips over the edge further pressure will inevitably be heaped onto our hospitals. The only way to stem this emerging crisis is for the Government to increase investment in general practice to 11% of the NHS budget by 2017 and to recruit an additional 8,000 GPs in England to meet soaring patient demand,” said Dr Baker.

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