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GP recruitment time-bomb ‘ready to explode’

Survey reveals growing exodus of GPs

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 03 March 2015

Over half of the UK’s GPs expect to retire or leave general practice before they reach 60.

This promised exodus, based on the results of a BBC survey, reinforces repeated warnings from the medical profession and should act as a wake-up call to politicians, say lead doctors.

The BBC Inside Out ComRes survey of 1,004 GPs across the UK found that 56% expected to retire or leave general practice before the age of 60. 

Early retirement is likely to exacerbate the existing national GP shortage. The number of unfilled GP posts has quadrupled in the past three years. The problem is worsened by a fall in the number of medical students opting to make general practice a career. In 2013 only 20% of medical students chose to work in general practice on completion of their foundation training - shy of the national target of 50% by 2016. 

Earlier this month, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) produced figures showing that some parts of England need at least a 50% increase in the number of GPs working in the community over the next five years. Overall RCGP research showed that England will need 8,000 new full time equivalent GPs by 2020. 

The British Medical Association has also repeatedly warned of a growing crisis and say the shortage presents a threat to patient care.

Talking to OnMedica, Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee said: “The BBC survey backs up the repeated surveys and warnings from the BMA over the last few years that a GP recruitment and retention time-bomb was primed and ready to explode.

“It is all too clear that this crisis is now upon us. In response to our campaigning, political parties are making pre-election promises to recruit 5-8000 new GPs and whilst the recently agreed 10-point workforce plan is a step in the right direction, there is still a lack of real commitment to provide the necessary resources to pay for the urgently needed expansion of the general practice workforce, or to meaningfully tackle the workload pressures GPs are struggling with. We cannot wait for the promise of new GPs in the future; we need urgent action to be taken now.”

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, GP and BMA education, training and workforce committee chair, said: “GP services are under unprecedented workload pressure, with practices seeing record numbers of patients - 40 million more annually than in 2008 – against a background of mounting bureaucracy and falling resources.

“This has led to a significant drop in GP morale, and, as the BBC’s survey shows, has led to a worrying number of senior GPs choosing to retire early or work abroad, at the same time that general practice faces a serious shortfall in the number of doctors choosing to train as GPs.”

Dr Kasaraneni described how three GPs in his own practice had moved abroad ‘due to the unsustainable daily pressure facing general practice’.

He added: “If this situation becomes normality it will result in an accelerating decline in the overall number of GPs, and will present a threat to patient care as there will be too few GPs for the number of patients walking through the surgery doors. 

“Patients are already beginning to see the result of the increasing pressure on general practice in a decline in the number of available appointments, and this worrying shortage of GPs will only exacerbate this crisis.

“We need politicians and policymakers to wake up to the severity of this problem.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described the results of the BBC’s survey as ‘worrying’ but said a new government programme designed to encourage doctors back into general practice would tackle the recruitment issue.

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We seriously need to tackle the three Rs: recruitment, retention and 'returners' – making it easier for trained GPs who have taken a career break to return to frontline patient care.

“These are key elements of both our Election manifesto and the joint 10-point plan to build the GP workforce that we launched recently with NHS England, Health Education England and the BMA."

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