Top doctors predict exciting future for general practice - but poll reveals low GP morale

General practice will be the most exciting place to work in the NHS over the coming decade, top doctors have said - as a poll found many existing GPs would not choose the profession if they started their careers again.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

Almost half of GPs say they would not pursue a career in medicine if they were to have their time again, figures show - with staffing problems, workload issues and inadequate pay cited as the key drivers of job dissatisfaction.

Some 44% of 122 GPs taking part in a Medscape survey said they would not choose medicine if they were to start their career again, compared to 38% of doctors from other specialties.

Among the 56% of GPs who said they would opt to stay in medicine, almost two thirds said they would remain in the same specialty. Among all doctors, this figure rose to 77%.

This comes just days after partnership review chair Dr Nigel Watson told delegates at a Westminster Health Forum event he would choose to specialise in general practice again if he were to re-start his career. ‘If I had my time again I would be a GP,’ he said. ‘General practice will provide the most exciting place to work in the NHS within the next 10 years - I will broaden that to say primary care.’

GP workload

Also speaking at the Westminster Health Forum event last week, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘[Dr Watson] said in conclusion that if he had his time again he’d be a GP again because it’s where the action is and I actually genuinely do believe that.’

He went on to say that the funding allocated to primary care under the long-term plan was ‘an NHS first of preferentially investing in general practice, primary care and community-based services. That’s a real landmark decision of the central NHS to do that. We have to now turn that into a reality’.

He added that, in future, doctors will see that primary care is ‘where the funding is going, where the priorities are and where the excitement is’ and that the flexibility of general practice - offering ‘portfolio working’ - will see clinicians ‘increasingly’ choosing to become GPs.

NHS staffing levels and workload were named as the biggest job-related challenges across the whole survey with 50% of the vote. However, when broken down by specialty, figures showed that staffing and workload issues were more of a problem for hospital doctors (51%) than GPs (40%) - despite GPs being lumbered with around two more hours’ worth of admin every week.

GP income

Pay was also a contentious issue, with the majority (67%) of GPs reporting concerns over levels of pay compared to 59% of their secondary care counterparts. GPs were also more likely to consider working abroad, with more than a third (38%) saying they were considering leaving the NHS to practise in another country.

Overall, 81% of more than 1,000 doctors taking part in the survey said working in the NHS had become harder, while just 1% said it had become easier. 18% said there had been ‘no change’.

On a more positive note, the vast majority (80%) of GPs said they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their job performance. Across all survey respondents, 36% said being good at the job was the most rewarding aspect of practising medicine, while gratitude from and relationships with patients received 22% of the vote.

The authors noted that patient relationships mattered more to GPs than specialists, who were more likely to cite being good at their job as the most rewarding career factor.

Individual responses outlining reasons for job satisfaction included ‘being able to help people and pushing myself to the limit every day to maintain good performance’ and ‘doing the best got each patient and getting amazing feedback’

One respondent wrote: ‘I love my job, mostly, although not always. Couldn’t really ask for a better job. I get to do something I enjoy, I am good at it, for the most part I am my own boss.’

GPs made up the largest cohort taking part in the Medscape survey, accounting for 12% of the 1,022 individuals who took part. Respondents were required to be full-time practising doctors in the UK.

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