Patient safety will be at risk unless the 'chronic shortage' of GPs is addressed, the college says, with 594 GP practices at risk of closure by 2020 and a likely shortfall of 9,940 GPs.
GP practices now carry out 1.3m consultations per day across the UK, the college said, with workload up 16% over the past seven years. But the number of full-time equivalent GPs has fallen from 35,990 in 2013/14 to 35,589 today, the college warned.
The college predicts a shortfall of 8,371 GPs in England, 830 in Scotland, 424 in Wales and 316 in Northern Ireland by 2020.
As part of a campaign to tackle the growing GP crisis, the RCGP has launched a video and guide to attract new recruits into the profession by highlighting the varied role and workload of modern GPs. The 'Think GP' campaign shows that GPs are expert generalists who must be prepared to handle any conditions that come through their door, and look after whole communities from cradle to grave.
Think GP video
The campaign also highlights the increasing move towards federations, super practices and general practice at scale.
But if current trends continue, the RCGP estimates that 594 practices face closure by 2020 because 75% of their GPs are aged 55 or above, and early retirement has become increasingly common.
The RCGP says NHS England's GP Forward View - which pledged to increase resources going into general practice by £2.4bn a year by 2020 and boost GP numbers and the wider - is 'recognition of the value that general practice brings to the NHS and patient care, and a step to secure the profession for the future'.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: 'It is imperative that we recruit huge numbers of medical students and foundation doctors into general practice in order to keep the NHS on its feet. If we fail, there will be too few GPs to go round, practices will close, and patient safety in general practice will clearly be at risk.
'General practice is the cornerstone of the NHS, with 90% of patient contacts in the health service being conducted by family doctors and their teams. The GP Forward View is a lifeline for general practice in England, and if implemented correctly it paints a bright future for our profession – we need to work together to ensure this happens, and for equivalent plans to be announced across the UK.
'Despite the fact that general practice is critical to the success of the NHS there is a bizarre misconception in certain parts of the medical world that GPs merely treat coughs and colds.
'As time progresses, a career as a GP will become more and more intellectually and medically challenging, diverse and fulfilling. GPs will have portfolio careers heading multi-disciplinary teams, leading work in areas from geriatrics to neurology, running "in-reach" to hospitals and "outreach" to patients’ homes.'