More than one in three GPs planned to quit within five years even before COVID-19

More than a third of GPs overall - and nearly two thirds of those aged over 50 - planned to quit within five years even before the damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey shows.

GPs under pressure (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
GPs under pressure (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

Among GPs aged over 50, 63% planned to quit within five years according to polling carried out in 2019 as part of the biannual GP worklife survey - the highest figure it has recorded.

A total of 37% of all GPs polled said they planned to quit direct patient care within five years - the second-highest proportion recorded after 39% in 2017.

Among GPs aged under 50, 11% said they planned to quit within five years - down slightly from more than 13% in figures for 2017 and 2015.

GP workforce

The figures come after GPonline reported earlier this year that the number of GPs per patient in England had fallen by 10% over the past five years.

Polling by the BMA and other organisations has shown that the impact on GPs of working through the pandemic is likely to deepen the workforce crisis. BMA polling showed last year that one in six GPs planned to quit or retire early after the pandemic - and a poll by the MDDUS this year found that more than half of GPs were considering quitting or retiring early.

A report by the House of Commons health and social care select committee this week warned that NHS workforce planning needed a total overhaul to tackle soaring rates of burnout among health service staff linked to 'chronic excessive workload'.

Despite the findings on GPs' plans to quit, overall job satisfaction recorded by the latest GP worklife survey - carried out by the National Institute for Health Research policy research unit approximately every two years since 1999 - rose slightly between 2017 and 2019.

Job satisfaction

On a scale from 1 (extremely dissatisfied) to 7 (extremely satisfied) the mean level of job satisfaction rose from 4.25 in 2017 to 4.49 in 2019 - and 59% of respondents said they were satisfied with their job overall.

Overall hours worked dropped slightly, the survey found, in line with indications from NHS Digital figures that show the proportion of GPs working more than 37.5 hours per week has slumped, while the proportion of GPs working 15-37.5 hours or less than 15 hours is rising.

Professor Kath Checkland, who led the GP worklife study said: 'It is encouraging to see that there was a small increase in job satisfaction between 2017 and 2019, but the high levels of GPs planning to leave patient care even before the pandemic hit is very concerning.

'We are now carrying out a further round of the survey to try to capture changes in job satisfaction driven by the pandemic. It is really important that we get as many responses as possible, and I would encourage all GPs receiving a link to the survey to respond, so that we get as complete a picture as possible.'

Patient care at risk

BMA GP committee workforce policy lead Dr Samira Anane said: 'These figures may be alarming, but sadly they will certainly not come as a surprise to many GPs as this has been a longstanding concern. This research was carried out before the pandemic, and it is likely that the experiences that GPs have gone through over the last year has changed their outlook further.

'Our most recent BMA survey found a third of GPs who responded saying they were now more likely to take early retirement than before the pandemic, while one in five were more likely to leave the NHS all together. This desire is largely driven by unsustainable workload and the impact this has on doctors’ own wellbeing. GPs desperately need support from government and policymakers as they face the most challenging time of their careers.

'Without this intervention we will see more doctors being forced to leave the profession, creating a vicious cycle where capacity is continuously outstripped by demand, threatening the level of care practices are able to offer patients, and ultimately, the sustainability of the wider health service.'

The Tenth National GP Worklife Survey was carried out by the Health Organisation, Policy and Economics (HOPE) research group at The University of Manchester on behalf of the NIHR Policy Research Unit in health and social care systems and commissioning (PRUComm). PRUComm is funded by the DHSC policy research programme.

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