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Numbers of GPs planning to leave hits record high

39% of GPs say they want to leave within five years

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The amount of GPs who say they intend to leave their job in primary care within five years has reached an all-time high of 39%, according to a new survey carried out by University of Manchester researchers.

The researchers from the Manchester Centre for Health Economics at the university produced the National GP Worklife Survey* – a national survey of GPs in England, which has been carried out nine times since 1999.

It analysed two samples in 2017 – 996 GPs responded to a random sample of 4,000 people and 1,199 responded (out of 22,280) after being followed up after responding to the 2015 survey.

Results show that the number of GPs who said they were likely to quit direct patient care within five years rose to 39% in 2017 from 35% in 2015.

The age of the doctor made a difference in terms of their view of future work plans.

The figure planning to leave rose from 61% in 2015 to 62% in GPs over 50. Among this group, the majority said it was “highly likely” (47%) or “considerably likely” (15%).

In contrast, 13% of GPs aged under 50 said there was a “considerable” or “high” likelihood of leaving direct patient care within five years and 45% reported that there was “no likelihood”.

Respondents reported working an average of 41.8 hours per week and stated working hours per week have remained largely stable since 2008.

Long working hours were an issue for some GPs, as the results showed a fifth (20%) of doctors reported working more than 60 hours per week, while 16% reported working between 50-59 hours, 28% worked between 40-49 hours, and 36% said they worked fewer than 40 hours per week.

The researchers found that more than nine out of 10 GPs reported experiencing considerable or high pressure from increasing workloads.

Although there was been relatively little change between 2015 and 2017, average reported pressures remained at a high level relative to previous surveys.

Particularly high average levels of pressure were reported in “having insufficient time to do the job justice”, “increasing workloads”, “paperwork” and “increased demand from patients”.

The percentage of GPs earning £110,000 per year or more fell from 34.6% in 2010 to 31% in 2015 and rose to 32.5% in 2017 – their median hours worked per week increased between 2010 and 2017.

Professor Kath Checkland, who led the study said: “Our survey shows there has been little change in the satisfaction and stressor results between 2015 and 2017 survey, though 2015 were already at very high levels.

“The all-time high figure of 39% of GPs who say they intend to quit within five years is particularly worrying in terms of the possible implications it might have on recruitment, retention and patient care.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair, said: “It’s incredibly worrying to hear that so many GPs are thinking about leaving the profession within the next five years, but it certainly isn’t surprising, given the intense pressures family doctors are facing –
something about which the college has long been raising concerns.

“Pressures in general practice have reached an all-time high; our workload has escalated by at least 16% over the last seven years, but the share of the NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago, GP numbers are actually falling, and many hard-working GPs are simply burnt-out and exhausted.

“As this study shows, 20% of GPs are now working intensively for more than 60 hours a week. We’re trying to do more and more on less and less, and there is a limit beyond which we can no longer guarantee that we are practising safely.”

*Gibson J, Sutton M, Spooner S and Checkland K. Ninth National GP Worklife Survey 2017. Division of Population Health, Health Services Research & Primary Care, School of Health Sciences, University of Manchester, UK.

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