Two out of every five GPs in the UK intend to quit within the next five years – the largest proportion on record, The Guardian reports that government-funded research shows. A survey of 2,195 GPs in England undertaken in late 2017 found that 39% were likely to leave “direct patient care” by 2022. That compares to 19.4% in 2005 and 35.3% in 2015.
Overall 27.7% of respondents said there was a high likelihood of them stopping seeing patients, and another 11.4% said the likelihood was “considerable”. A higher proportion of male (46.5%) than female (32%) GPs said they planned to quit. “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”, said Professor Kath Checkland, a co-author of the study.
The report says the findings come from the latest national GP work-life survey, which was undertaken by Checkland and colleagues at Manchester University’s Centre for Health Economics and commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care.
The trend is particularly pronounced among GPs over the age of 50, 61% of whom said they planned to quit within five years.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said in the report: “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.”
The five biggest sources of stress in GPs’ working lives were increasing workloads (92.3%), having too little time to do justice to the job (85.3%), paperwork (82.6%), changes to meet requirements from external bodies (81.1%) and increased demand from patients (85.8%).
“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 National Health Service (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”, Stokes-Lampard said.
The report says long hours are common for GPs. The survey found almost two-thirds (64%) work at least 40 hours a week and one in five work 60 or more hours.
The website GPonline reported recently that two-thirds of family doctors took no breaks during a typical clinical session lasting about four hours, and many felt unable to take a break all day. One told GPonline: “There is no such thing as a break or even lunch. Taking a break means you would be home even later, with even less time with your kids.” Another said: “Breaks simply add time to a day that is already 14 hours long.”
Only half (49.9%) of GPs in the survey said they were satisfied with their job. Very large proportions of respondents said patients were presenting with increasingly complex needs (98.2%), that they had to work very intensively (95.5%) and that they had to work very quickly (88.8%).
The report says the British Medical Association’s GPs committee is pushing for the introduction of workload limits for GPs to prevent them from becoming overloaded and a hospital-style “black alert” system when practices are overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, NHS Improvement, the health service’s financial regulator, has said hospitals are short of 92,694 nurses, doctors and other staff and overspent by £960m last year because of a surge in demand during the worst-ever winter crisis.
Chris Hopson, the CEO of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said: “The figures reflect the worrying gap between what the NHS is being asked to deliver and the resources available following almost a decade of austerity. There are not enough staff, ambulances, community and mental health capacity or hospital beds to cope.”
Sally Gainsbury, a senior policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust thinktank, is quoted in the report as saying that the £960m deficit disguised a far deeper black hole in the NHS’s finances. “Even that figure is flattered by billions of pounds’ worth of accountancy fiddles, emergency cash boosts and one-off savings, meaning the underlying deficit is in the region of £4bn,” she said.The Guardian report