Dr Baker's letter warns that the government cannot achieve its target of increasing the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020 through recruitment initiatives alone and urges the government to focus on steps to keep existing GPs working longer.
Earlier this month the college warned that almost 600 GP practices across the UK - including 467 in England, could be forced to close by 2020 because 75% or more of their GPs were aged 55 or over.
Dr Baker set out in her letter to Mr Hunt five initiatives that the RCGP wants the government to adopt to retain existing GPs:
- A comprehensive, flexible careers planning scheme for older GPs looking at opportunities to keep older GPs engaged in the workforce in whatever capacity is appropriate for them.
- A bursary to support continuing professional development and help older GPs meet the costs of indemnity, which can be a barrier to older GPs continuing to work flexibly.
- A government review of pension arrangements to ensure that pensions are not a disincentive to continuing to work for older GPs.
- Priority for older GPs in the roll-out of the medical assistants pilot as administrative burdens are often cited as contributing to GPs’ decisions to retire early.
- A mentoring and job sharing scheme that matches older GPs with GPs returning to work after having children. This would enable GPs to have a staged return to practice and older GPs have a staged retirement. It would also support the transfer of knowledge from older GPs to younger GPs.
Dr Baker said: 'Older GPs have so much to give to their patients, their colleagues and the wider NHS, yet we are at risk of "brain drain" on a massive scale. Even with the significant levels of investment promised in NHS England’s GP Forward View, this cannot be replaced overnight, if ever.'
Failing to find ways to keep GPs approaching retirement in the profession when waits for GP appointments are rising risked 'a tragic waste of talent and expert knowledge', Dr Baker warned.
'If we fail to address this, the consequences for the health service could be dire – and it is patients who will ultimately bear the brunt by not being able to see their GP when they need to. General practice is caught in a pincer movement of GPs leaving the profession but not enough medical students choosing to go into general practice.
'We have launched our Think GP campaign to attract more people into the profession – but we need similar schemes to persuade practising GPs to stay, and that is what we are calling on the health secretary to establish and champion.'