Around two in every five GPs in the South West have said they intend to quit within the next five years, exposing the magnitude of the region’s impending healthcare crisis.
The University of Exeter’s survey of 2,000 GPs across the region also found that seven out of ten GPs intend to change their working patterns in a way that would mean less contact with patients. This included leaving patient care, taking a career break, or reducing their hours.
If the low morale revealed is echoed in other regions, it could point to a deeper and more imminent crisis than previously anticipated in relation to the worsening shortage of GPs nationwide.
Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the research, has called for a move away from “sticking plaster solutions” towards robust, joined-up action to avert the crisis nationwide.
He said: “We carried out this survey because of a nationally recognised crisis in the shortage of GPs across the country, and our findings show an even bleaker outlook than expected for GP cover, even in an area which is often considered desirable, and which has many rural communities. If GPs have similar intentions to leave or reduce their hours in other regions, as many are reporting, the country needs to take robust action more swiftly and urgently than previously thought.”
The number of unfilled GP posts quadrupled between 2012 and 2014 nationally, while the numbers of GPs fell substantially. The national situation has prompted political action, with the Government announcing measures to train 5,000 new GPs in 2015, and to increase the proportion of medical students who choose general practice as a career.
However, initial data suggests little progress has been made.
The study, published in BMJ Open, found that more than half of GPs (54%) reported low morale. This group was particularly likely to indicate that they intended to leave the profession.
Campbell added: “Whilst numerous government-led initiatives are underway to address recruitment, there is a need to address the underlying serious malaise which is behind this data. We are in a perilous situation in England, with poor morale of the current GP workforce, and major difficulties with recruitment and retention of GPs reflected in the stark overall reduction in the GP workforce. Reactive, sticking-plaster approaches are not the answer.”
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee lead on Education, Training and Workforce, commented: “As government figures showed last month, the number of full time GPs is falling as many decide to leave the profession or retire earlier. Many GPs are voting with their feet because of the daily struggle of trying to provide enough appointments to patients without the resources or support they need. Given the uncertainty of whether the UK’s departure from the European Union will result in more overseas doctors leaving the NHS, this shortage could well get even worse in the years to come.
“With the NHS at breaking point, we need the government to take the evidence of a workforce crisis seriously and act to implement a long term, well-funded plan that results in more GPs being available to treat the public.”