Most GP practices fear growing financial pressure and wave of retirements, poll suggests

Seven in 10 GP practices in England are reliant on doctors close to retirement and three quarters fear growing financial pressure in the coming year, a survey suggests.

GP practice fears over finance and staffing (Photo: mtreasure/Getty Images)

Results from the Lloyds Bank Healthcare Confidence Index show that 70% of practices have retirements approaching in the next five years and are seeking new partners or salaried GPs.

The figures highlight a looming workforce crisis for general practice, with the latest NHS statistics showing 30% of family doctors are above the age of 50, while around a tenth are over 60.

It also comes as the health secretary Sajid Javid admitted earlier this month that the government is set to miss its manifesto pledge of delivering an extra 6,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs by 2024.

GP retirements

Findings from the survey - conducted annually since 2011 - showed that 62% of family doctors thought  ‘golden hello’ payments were having a positive effect on recruitment. However, the scheme is due to come to an end in March 2022.

Almost three quarters (74%) of GP practices were expecting financial pressures to increase over the next five years. But doctors’ confidence in seeing profits rise over the next year climbed from 22% last year to 38% this year.

Although GPs remain the least confident of the primary healthcare professions (dentists and pharmacists), the study revealed a strong rebound in their outlook since last year as GPs’ short-term optimism improved. Despite this, twice as many GPs said NHS services would get worse (56%) than better (27%) over the next five years.

Responding to the survey results, UK head of healthcare banking services at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking Martyn Kendrick, said: ‘It’s been another extremely tough year for the healthcare sector, so it’s encouraging to see that the overall confidence of GPs has now returned to levels seen before the coronavirus crisis.

Practice profits

‘The NHS has continued to support practices by guaranteeing the majority of their income, helping allay initial fears over the pandemic’s impact on profits, but the lack of new partners coming through is a real concern. It’s essential that GPs are given business support and we will continue to provide them with the knowledge, products and guidance they need to continue delivering their essential services.’

RSM UK tax and accounting partner James Gransby said: ‘It is encouraging to see GPs’ short-term confidence rebounding, but their stalling long-term confidence reflects serious concerns over the lack of new GPs coming through, combined with the increasing demands on their services. That’s a generational challenge that will require considerable resources to address.’

BMA analysis of the latest workforce data from NHS Digital shows that general practice in England has 1,700 fewer fully-qualified, FTE GPs now than in 2015, with each FTE GP responsible for an extra 300 people on average compared with six years ago. The union also urged the government to stop pension tax driving a wave of early retirement, warning that the NHS is 50,000 doctors short as it faces what could be 'one of the worst winters on record'.

GPonline reported in May that more than a third of UK GPs were planning to retire early and many more to reduce their working hours in the coming year as unmanageable workload and the pandemic leave the NHS facing a 'ticking timebomb', according to the BMA.

A total of 346 primary care professionals responded to the Lloyds survey, including 126 GPs. Polling was carried out in August 2021.

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