Four in 10 GPs intend to quit general practice in the next five years, according to a new study.
A survey conducted by the University of Warwick revealed that 40% of the 929 GPs surveyed want to leave the profession within the next five years, an increase of nearly a third since 2014.
GPs who responded to the survey suggested that interventions to improve GP retention included ‘increased funding, more GPs, better education of the public and expanding non-clinical and support staff.’
The recent contract announcement in England made commitments for more support staff, but the most recent GP recruitment figures found the number of fully qualified full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs has dropped by 2% over the past year .
Published in BMJ Open, the survey focused in the Wessex region in England, the same area as a similar survey conducted in 2014 to allow for comparisons.
The study revealed that, compared to their plans two years ago, 49% had brought forward their plan to leave general practice and 18% intended to retire in the next two years.
This compares with the 2014 survey, showed out of 1,398 participants, 32% planned to retire in the next five years, 20% were going to retire earlier than planned, and 13% were planning on retiring within two years.
The report identifies similarities from surveys in other regions such as 41% of GPs in the West Midlands and 37% of GPs in South West England intending to leave general practice in the next 5 years.
Work intensity and workload were among the top reasons for leaving general practice, the survey shows, with 51% of participants reporting working longer hours than two years prior.
The study’s authors said: ‘Views from our survey would suggest that many of the changes in the long-term plan, such as greater funding for general practice, increasing the GP workforce, and increasing clinical and support staff in general practice, are desperately needed.
But in the context of low and worsening morale and job satisfaction, the question is can these be introduced quickly enough now to stem the flow of GPs who are bringing forward their plans to leave the NHS.’
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This is yet another worrying report about the state of the GP workforce crisis and these findings are consistent with other surveys which give rise to growing concerns for practices and their patients.
He continued: ‘Added to this is the fact that almost nearly one in every two GPs are over the age of 45. The medical workforce is ageing, and many experienced older doctors are finding that working in today’s NHS is too taxing on their work-life balance and can have a detrimental impact on their health and wellbeing, causing some to seek early retirement.
It comes as no surprise that many want to quit within the next five years, and now is a critical time to address the underlying issues that are causing GPs to want to leave the profession.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘There is some great work ongoing to increase recruitment into general practice, and we now have more GPs in training than ever before – but when more family doctors are leaving the profession than entering, we are fighting a losing battle.
She added: ‘The NHS long-term plan has aspirations that will be good for patients – but we will need the workforce to deliver it.
The forthcoming NHS workforce strategy for England must contain measures to help retain GPs in the workforce for longer – steps to reduce workload to make working in general practice more sustainable and removing incentives to retire early for GPs who might not necessarily want to would both be sensible places to start.’
However, the Practice Managers Association (PMA) said the findings may not be as alarming as they initially seem.
PMA advisory panel member Scott Mckenzie sad: ‘This survey would have been carried out before the announcement of the new GP contract, which in the main is being greeted with enthusiasm – an enthusiasm that will grow if the promised investment in general practice materialises, along with [additional staff].
He added: ‘Assuming the workforce strategy, which is due later in the year, also addresses the recruitment and retention of the workforce and that primary care networks take steps to reduce workload and make working in general practice more sustainable, I don’t believe you will see this level of retirement in the next five years.
If neither of those things happens; this figure could of course become on the low side.’
An RCGP survey in December last year found a third of the 1094 GPs surveyed across England will quit within the next five years.
A version of this story was originally published on our sister publication Pulse.