General practice is facing a ‘mass exodus’, with 18,950 GPs and trainees set to leave the profession over the next five years, putting patient care at risk, if steps are not taken to address intense workload and workforce pressures, the Royal College of GPs is warning today as it launches a new campaign aiming to make NHS GP services sustainable for the future.

The stark snapshot of GPs’ career intentions, revealed in a recent College survey of members, paints a worrying picture of a dangerously overstretched and severely under resourced service at breaking point, and at risk of compromising safe patient care.

Of the 1,262 GP and trainee respondents, 42% say they are likely to quit the profession in the next five years, with 10% in the next year and 19% in the next two years. With a workforce headcount of more than 45,000 GPs and trainees currently this could mean that patients are set to lose almost 19,000 GPs and trainees, equivalent to more than 15,000 full-time equivalent GPs. Of those not planning to retire, 60% cite stress, working hours, and lack of job satisfaction as their reasons to quit.

There are currently more GPs in training than ever before, with an intake of 4,000 in 2021 – but even if this level of intake is maintained over the next five years and all trainees enter the profession, it will not be enough to counter the numbers planning to leave the profession and sufficiently increase GP numbers.

The survey also revealed:

  • 68% of respondents say they don’t have enough time to properly assess their patients, with 65% saying patient safety is being compromised due to appointments being too short;
  • 80% of respondents expect working in general practice to get worse over the next few years, compared to only 6% who expect it to get better; and
    over a third (38%) said GP practice premises are not fit for purpose, and IT for booking systems are not good enough (34%).
  • In response, the College is launching Fit for the Future: a new plan for GPs and their patients, setting out urgent actions for Government to tackle the workforce and workload crisis in general practice, and support GPs and their teams to meet the healthcare challenges of the 21st century.

Last week the Health Secretary Sajid Javid said a plan was needed for general practice – the RCGP is saying that this must be a bold new plan to provide GPs and patients with the support that they need. It is calling on the Government to commit to this, and that it should include:

  • A new recruitment and retention strategy that allows us to go beyond the target of 6000 more GPs.
  • An NHS wide campaign to free up GPs to spend more time with patients by cutting unnecessary workload and bureaucracy.
  • Improving patients’ experience of accessing care by investing in a new suite of IT products and support for practices, making it easier for patients to choose to see the same GP or the next available member of the team.
  • Returning funding for general practice to 11% of total health spend, including £1 billion additional investment in GP premises.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “What our members are telling us about working on the frontline of general practice is alarming. General practice is significantly understaffed, underfunded, and overworked and this is impacting on the care and services we’re able to deliver to patients.

“The intensity and complexity of our workload is escalating whilst numbers of fully qualified, full-time GPs are falling. The College has been sounding alarm bells about the intense pressures GPs and our teams are working under, and the urgent need for support, since well before the pandemic, but covid has only exacerbated the situation. This is taking its toll on the health and wellbeing of GPs and other members of their teams – pushing many to consider leaving the profession earlier than planned.

“General practice is the bedrock of the NHS, keeping the service sustainable by making the majority of patient contacts, and alleviating pressures across the health service. But it is a profession and a service in crisis and needs urgent support.

“Our survey results should act as a stark warning for politicians and decision-makers – and we urge them to take heed of our campaign, launching today. This outlines what is needed to make general practice fit for the future, so that GPs and our teams can give the patients the time and care they need. Taking these steps will alleviate the unsustainable and unsafe pressure that GPs and our teams are working under, and free up time to have longer consultations and build the invaluable relationships with patients that we know lead to better health outcomes.

“Being a GP is a fantastic, stimulating and professionally satisfying career, when it is adequately resourced and when we have the time to deliver the care our patients need, and the type of care that we want to deliver. We need to make being a GP sustainable again, for the sake of the NHS, and for the sake of patients. We urge politicians and decision makers to take heed of our campaign calls.”