GP survey prompts calls for greater staff retention

The Royal College of GPs says that greater efforts must go into reducing GP workload in order to keep existing family doctors working in the profession.

The college’s latest survey of 1,094 GPs in England emphasises the intense pressures in everyday general practice, and how this is impacting on GPs' career plans. It found that 31 per cent of GPs said they are unlikely to be working in general practice in five years with stress and retirement cited as the main reasons, five per cent of GPs report that their practice is likely to close in the next year; and 37 per cent of GPs said that in the practice where they work, there are GP vacancies that have been open for more than three months.

Having analysed the latest provisional workforce data from NHS Digital for September 2018, the college says that efforts to retain the workforce need to replicate the 'excellent' work that has gone into increasing recruitment to general practice. Therefore, it has renewed its long-standing calls for general practice to receive 11 per cent of the overall NHS budget as part of the forthcoming 10-year plan for the NHS.

That share of funding would enable larger practice teams, which would enable GPs to spend more time than the standard 10-minute consultation with patients who need it, as well as IT systems that would allow more surgeries to use video consultations as part of a standard range of consultation options, and to enable joined-up care across the NHS. This would see GP surgeries become modernised, fit-for-purpose surgeries as the 'hub' of the community, alongside a bigger workforce, where more healthcare professionals will choose general practice as a career and are supported by better-funded training placements in the community.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "All GPs are overworked, many are stressed, and some are making themselves seriously ill working hours that are simply unsafe, for both themselves and their patients - it is making them want to leave the profession. It is forcing some GPs to hand back their keys and close their surgeries for good. GPs often find ourselves fire-fighting by prioritising the urgent cases, whereas the strength of general practice is to prevent disease and identify conditions in the early stages, to avoid them becoming more serious – and costlier to the health service.

"About a third of the GPs we surveyed said they were unlikely to be working in general practice in five years' time. This is gravely concerning. NHS England and Health Education England have done excellent work, supported by the RCGP and others, to encourage more doctors to specialise in general practice and we now have more GPs in training than ever before. But GP specialty-training takes three years, and if as many GPs are leaving the profession as entering it, we are fighting an uphill battle, when realistically we need thousands more.

"We need to see this level of effort replicated in initiatives to retain GPs already in the profession, to reduce our escalating and often unnecessary workload, and to support GPs and our teams' own health and well-being. The RCGP is calling for general practice to receive 11 per cent of the overall NHS budget as part of the forthcoming 10-year plan for the NHS. Investing in general practice is investing in the entire NHS. It is an investment in good patient care."

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