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UK heading towards GP crisis as 40% consider leaving

Published on 12/04/17 at 10:32am

The University of Exeter has conducted a survey looking into GP morale in the south-west of the UK, and the results weren’t pretty. Nearly 40% of the 2,248-strong survey said they ‘highly likely’ to leave direct patient care and 70% said they were looking at ways to reduce contact with patients over the next five years.

The results are a huge problem for a government that has failed quite spectacularly to keep GPs on-side. Plans unveiled by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to extend working hours of GPs to a seven-day week service put an enormous amount of pressure on already overworked GPs. It can then come as no surprise that only 14% of GPs reported that they had high morale while more than half of respondents reported low morale.

The conclusion of the report reads as follows: “Healthcare in England faces imminent challenges in respect of GP workforce capacity. This survey identifies the magnitude of the problem in South West England and highlights the important role of GP morale as one important factor contributing to that challenge. Acknowledgement of the magnitude of the problems is urgently required, along with implementation and monitoring of relevant policy and strategy. Failure to do so will risk serious adverse effects on the capacity and ability of the NHS to provide effective primary care to the UK population.”

The major worry is whether this survey translates to the rest of the UK. The southwest is commonly understood to be a desirable area to work for GPs and so the extrapolations of the study when spread further afield, in less desirable areas, could be a cause for further worry.

Beyond this is the concern that not enough young doctors are making the move into GP practices, with the service dependent on those aged over 50 years old. As this generation retires, it could cause a dearth in GPs and heap more strain on services. Recruitment is currently an issue, with a BMA survey finding that 3,500 GPs in England finding that approximately one third of practices had been advertising for a new doctor for more than a year.

In response to the growing crisis, Hunt had promised that 5,000 new GPs would be trained and he would make efforts to increase the proportion of medical students choosing to follow a path into general practice. The urgency of these plans will only be heightened by this latest survey.

Ben Hargreaves

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