Almost half of GP practices in England are reporting they have GPs who are planning to retire from the NHS, according to a British Medical Association (BMA) survey.
The BMA results, illustrated in a series of heat maps of parliamentary constituencies showing the worst-affected areas, show that the staff recruitment and retention problems facing general practice in England are set to worsen.
The survey revealed 46 per cent of practices had GPs who were considering retirement, with more than a third having GPs who were planning to retire in the next 12 months. A further 9 per cent of practices had GPs wanting to leave UK general practice.
The North East and East Anglia had the highest number of practices reporting GPs who were considering retirement, while the South, the East Midlands and the South West all reported higher than average numbers of GPs planning to leave the UK.
In December last year the BMA asked more than 3,000 GP practices in England and Wales about the biggest challenges facing their practice. The responses included financial viability, unsustainable workloads, overwhelming demand for services and concerns about the level of care they were able to offer patients as a result.
London had the worst figures for financial stability with 14 per cent of practices voicing concerns that their services were unsustainable, 41 per cent admitting their financial standing was weak and only two per cent reporting their situation as “strong”.
Other findings included the fact that most practices had struggled to secure locum cover over the last 12 months. Around a third of practices reported at least one unfilled GP partner post, as well as similar vacancy rates for salaried GPs and practice nurses and a minority had been trying to recruit staff for more than three months.
Half of practices say workload is ‘unmanageable a lot of the time,’ more than 12 per cent said workload was unmanageable ‘all of the time’ and over 90 per cent said that the demand for appointments had risen over the last 12 months.
BMA GPs committee chair Chaand Nagpaul said: “GP practices are facing this dire situation because they are being overwhelmed by rising patient demand, cuts to funding, staff shortages and more unfunded work being moved from hospitals into the community.
“Given these pressures it is unsurprising that GPs are considering leaving the NHS while new medical graduates are turning their backs on careers as GPs.”
As demand for GP services continues to balloon, health practitioners and out-of-hours services remain inundated by patients seeking appointments. Last year it was reported that out-of-hours doctor services in the North of England were taking up to 3,000 calls a week from patients who were unable to secure appointments during normal working hours, while more than 20,000 patients in Carlisle were without a GP as one in three surgeries were struggling to function with unfilled doctor’s vacancies.
Situations like this simply cannot be allowed to continue but without extra funding, staff and resources along with radical measures designed to halt the number of doctors leaving the profession, the outlook remains bleak. There are around 35,000 GPs today compared with 30,000 in 2002. Last year, a record 600 GP trainee positions went unfilled. These figures show that GP numbers are plateauing and not enough is being done to achieve anything like the numbers that are needed.
With around 300 GP practices facing closure in England, hundreds more facing financial uncertainty and already struggling practices battling to replace the unprecedented number of GPs planning to leave the health service, it is inevitably going to be extremely difficult maintaining current services and ensuring patient care doesn’t suffer.
Paul Sankey is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.