Poor pay and inadequate PPE leaves UK facing ‘mass exodus’ of GPs after pandemic

The UK faces a ‘mass exodus’ of GPs after the pandemic, with doctors feeling ‘undervalued and unprotected’ by the government during the COVID-19 crisis, a survey reveals.

PPE shortages have undermined morale (Photo: Sebastian Condrea/Getty Images)
PPE shortages have undermined morale (Photo: Sebastian Condrea/Getty Images)

Around 80% of 474 GPs who answered a poll by pressure group Doctors Association UK (DAUK) said they were ‘more likely’ to leave the NHS following the pandemic - 19% said their decision to leave or stay had not been affected.

Over three quarters of family doctors said the lack of a real-terms pay rise had forced them to consider their futures, while 71% said insufficient PPE was influencing their desire to quit.

More than 40% of respondents said the impact of the pandemic on their personal mental health had led them to consider leaving.

GP workforce

The findings - which come a week after the BMA found that one in six GPs plan to quit the NHS or retire early once the pandemic dies down - reflect a growing sense of frustration among GPs, who are contending with a growing workload and burnout.

DAUK leaders have warned that GPs must be given the support they need ahead of what is likely to be an especially tough winter. They have argued safeguards must be in place to protect practitioners' physical and mental wellbeing.

The survey - completed by a total of 1,758 doctors, including consultants and junior doctors - found that 17% of GPs were considering leaving clinical medicine in the next one to three years.

One in five GPs said they were considering quitting the NHS to pursue medicine abroad, while 10% said they would be retiring.

Real-terms pay

Commenting on the results, Dr Sophie Rowlands - a GP on the DAUK’s GP advisory board - said: ‘GPs have been left feeling undervalued and unprotected during the current pandemic, with over three quarters of those surveyed stating that they are more likely to leave the NHS as a result.

‘The ongoing real-terms pay erosion along with issues obtaining PPE has severely dented morale. Mixed messaging from the government, and constantly changing advice has not helped.

‘Moving forward into what is likely to be a tough winter, it is vitally important that GPs have the support needed to continue providing excellent care for patients, as well as having safeguards in place for their own physical and mental wellbeing.'

Dr Rowlands, added: ‘Without recognition and support, we are likely to face a mass exodus of GPs post pandemic, with many already looking to leave clinical medicine or move overseas in the next three years.’

Inadequate PPE

In July the BMA wrote to the health and social care secretary over the government's failure to increase GP pay. Family doctors were left out of this year’s pay deal, which saw NHS doctors receive a 2.8% pay rise, because of a previously agreed multi-year pay deal.

But the move was described as a 'kick in the teeth' following the efforts of GPs during the pandemic as GP leaders fear it could further impact a falling full-time equivalent (FTE) workforce, which is at its lowest point since September 2015.

The profession was also left disillusioned by a lack of adequate PPE during the early stages of the pandemic. A recent poll revealed that more than one in five family doctors may have had COVID-19 - prompting calls for improved protection for practitioners ahead of a potential second wave.

The BMA has called on the government and the NHS to do more to protect medical staff, warning the profession cannot afford more failures of quality and supply in PPE.

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'We are incredibly proud of all our staff who work in both NHS and social care settings and supporting their mental health and wellbeing is our absolute priority.

'We want all staff to be able to work flexibly and to access the practical and emotional support they need to look after their physical and mental health and the NHS People Plan published last month demonstrates our commitment to making the NHS the best possible place to work.

'We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the frontline, with over 3.1bn items delivered and more than 31bn have been ordered from UK-based manufacturers and international partners to provide a continuous supply.'

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