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GPs call for urgent action to stop mass ‘haemorrhaging’ of doctor numbers

GPs have called for the NHS to take urgent action to stop a wave of doctors leaving the profession in the next five years, it was today announced.

A survey conducted by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has raised significant concerns that many doctors will not stay on as GPs due to the high stress and workload of the job, leading the RCGP to warn that decisive action was needed to encourage GPs to stay in their roles.

Over 2,200 GPs in the south west of England were asked what their intentions were for the next few years, and found that over a third (37%) of respondents reported a high likelihood of leaving the profession within five years.

On top of that, 70% reported career intentions that would have a negative impact on GP capacity over the same period, including permanently leaving their posts, reducing their hours, or taking a career break.

Figures released by NHS Digital recently also reported that numbers of GPs had actually dropped in the past year despite increasing demand for patient services. If a mass exodus of GPs were also to occur, it could also make a serious dent in the NHS’s FYFV ambitions to train 15,000 GPs between 2015 and 2020.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that despite successful efforts to recruit more family doctors and make it easier for staff to return to practice, the NHS was still “haemorrhaging highly trained, experienced GPs at an alarming rate”.

“General practice is currently facing intense workload and resource pressures – these figures show it is severely impacting our workforce, and we fear they are indicative of the situation right across the UK,” she warned.  

“The future of the NHS relies on having a robust general practice service, with enough GPs to deliver the safe care and services our patients need. GPs and our teams make the vast majority of NHS patient contacts and in doing so we keep the health service cost effective and safe for patients.”

This led the RCGP chair to warn that the NHS needed to step up efforts to develop initiatives to improve retention and also make general practice a more attractive profession.

“Being a GP can be the best job in the world, but it needs to be resourced appropriately. We support the researcher’s call to move away from ‘sticking plaster’ solutions to the crisis facing general practice to one that will keep our important service sustainable for years to come,” stated Prof Stokes-Lampard.

“The college is confident that NHS England’s GP Forward View – which pledges £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs – is that long-term solution. We call for it to be implemented in full, swiftly and effectively, to the benefit of both GPs and patients. We also need to see similar promises in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

An NHS England South West spokesperson said: “We know GPs are under pressure seeing more patients with more complex conditions. 

"As part of a major new plan we will be training thousands more GPs over the coming years as well as increasing funding whilst upgrading buildings and equipment.

 “We’re also introducing other health professionals to practices, such as physiotherapists, mental health nurses and pharmacists, who can offer more specific services and free-up GPs to treat the most ill patients.”

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