Vast majority of GP trainees do not plan to work full-time, survey reveals

Just one in five GP trainees plan to work full-time in front-line general practice one year after qualifying - with many citing intensity of the job as a key factor, a poll by a leading think tank reveals.

Just 21.7% of GP trainees plan to work full-time in clinical general practice 12 months after qualifying, a survey conducted by the King’s Fund found.

Even fewer plan to work full-time in general practice 10 years after qualifying - just 5.4% said this was their intention a decade into their GP careers.

The survey, which looked at trainees’ intended working patterns once they qualify, also found that 9% of the 729 respondents were planning to work as a part-time GP within their first year after qualifying.

GP workload

The most common reason for going part-time was the ‘intensity of the working day’, suggesting that the ever-increasing GP workload remains a major concern for future doctors.

The findings highlight the uphill battle the NHS faces to secure the workforce general practice needs. Despite a government promise in 2015 to increase full-time equivalent GP numbers by 5,000 by 2020/21, the workforce has dropped since that time by more than 1,000.

One respondent to the survey said: ‘I enjoy the variety of general practice but I dislike the relentless pressure, the mounting paperwork and the rigidity of ten-minute appointments. I don’t feel satisfied with the care I provide in a primary care environment.’

These issues are in keeping with the latest national GP worklife survey carried out by the University of Manchester which found that 39% of GPs planned to quit in the next five years - double the proportion who planned to do so in 2005 - due to increasing workload pressures.

Portfolio GPs

The King’s Fund survey also highlighted an increasing trend towards portfolio work for GP trainees, with 52% of respondents saying they planned to do ‘other clinical NHS work’ alongside general practice commitments and 39% citing ‘medical education’ as a reason for reducing their clinical work.

RCGP chair professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘It’s not a surprise to see that more GP trainees are planning to either work part-time, or opt for portfolio careers – meaning that they undertake work in other areas of healthcare, as well as clinical work. The intense resource and workforce pressures facing general practice at the moment mean that full-time working as a GP is often regarded as untenable.

‘GPs and our teams make the vast majority of NHS patient contacts and workload in general practice is escalating, both in terms of volume and complexity. Yet, the share of the NHS budget our profession receives is less than it was a decade ago, and GP numbers are falling.’

Despite a record number of GP trainees being recruited into the NHS workforce in 2018, the number of doctors quitting the profession every month continues to cause concern.

Professor Stokes-Lampard added: ‘Working under these conditions is simply not acceptable for our trainees, or existing GPs trying to guide and nurture those new to the profession – and it isn’t safe for our patients.

‘It would be misguided and unhelpful for people to criticise the decision of GP trainees not to work full time, and suggest that this is contributing to workforce pressures – it is actually the flexibility that a career in general practice offers that makes it a sustainable career choice.’

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