Exclusive: Partnership first choice career for only one in five GPs

Only one in five GPs say a partnership role is currently the most attractive career option in general practice, a GPonline poll has found.

The findings reveal the uphill battle the government faces as it launches an independent review to find ways to 'reinvigorate' the partnership model.

Just 20% of 654 GP respondents to the latest GPonline opinion survey said that a partnership was currently the most attractive career option in general practice.

Locum work was identified as the most attractive option by 44% of respondents, while 36% said their first choice would be a salaried role.

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Among 274 GPs currently working as partners who responded to the survey, only 34% said that being a partner was the most attractive option in general practice at the moment. Just 5% of locums and 12% of salaried GPs said partnership roles were their first preference.

The findings shed new light on why official data reported last year by GPonline showed that the number of partners working in general practice in England fell by around 2,000 between September 2015 and September 2017 - an 8% drop. The poll findings suggest this trend is likely to continue.

One locum GP responding to the poll warned: 'I get offered salaried posts and partnerships monthly and would not touch them - the GPC needs to get off its backside and negotiate a decent safe contract for GPs or watch as the traditional model of GP partnerships disappears.'

Meanwhile, the GPonline poll also found that only 46% said the independent contractor model was the most efficient and cost-effective way of delivering general practice.

Partnership review

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the survey findings backed up the 'critical need' for the review of the partnership model. 'The review will need to listen to and then address the many concerns doctors of all ages and experience have, not least with workload pressures, premises liabilities, risk management, indemnity, flexible working patterns, bureaucracy pressures and the financial impact of running a business in recent years.

'While a decade of underinvestment has had a significant part to play in the current problems, it is not the only issue, and we look forward to working with the review group to explore and then tackle these.'

Responses from GPs who took part in our survey show that many are deeply concerned about the erosion of interest in partnership roles, but that many also accept that in the current climate it is understandable that many GPs choose to work freelance.

One respondent warned that the current GP model was 'dead in the water', while another said: 'I think if locum roles become more predominant and GPs are not willing to take the responsibilities of a partner in general practice, primary care as it exists now will cease to exist.'


But another GP said 'in the current climate it is entirely fair' that many GPs are choosing to work as locums. 'Market forces dictate the current workload and pay scales,' the GP said. 'It allows those doctors that just want to focus on clinical patient care to do so and many locums also do other portfolio type work.'

Several respondents agreed with the market forces point - highlighting that in many areas locums could earn more and have less responsibility than partners, with an ability to limit their workload that partners simply do not enjoy.

One partner said tackling workload and GPs' fear of severe repercussions if they make mistakes could help restore interest in partnership roles.

Another GP - who had worked as a locum for more than a decade - said that they loved the 'flexibility and having a portfolio career'. The GP added: 'More flexibility is required and GPs need to understand that "commitment'" can come in various guises. I am a very committed and responsible doctor, have no fear of running a partership or dealing with budgets, but am not prepared to give my entire life to working 14 hour days in terms of my health.'

A DHSC spokesman said: 'The government recognises the huge contribution that the general practice partnership model has made to the patients over the lifetime of the NHS. This is why we have commissioned a review to look at the partnership model and how it might be reinvigorated.'

Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson - a long-standing GPC member who has been involved in developing new models of care - was appointed last week to lead the GP partnerships review.

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