General practice can’t afford to lose GPs to early retirement because of undoable workload pressure, warns College

New NHS Digital workforce figures show nearly four in 10 GPs (38%) are aged 50 or over.

Responding to Liberal Democrat analysis of the data in the Guardian today warning of a ‘mass exodus’ of GPs, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “When GPs are approaching retirement age, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to leave the profession straightaway, but against the backdrop of intense workload and workforce pressures, coupled with current overbearing scrutiny from some sections of the media and politicians, it’s an increasingly realistic prospect and a huge concern. 

“General practice was delivering patient care under huge pressure before the pandemic, but this has only been exacerbated by the crisis and is taking its toll. The size of the qualified GP workforce fell by almost 6% between September 2015 and August 2021, meaning that the ratio of patients to GPs has increased by more than 10%. GPs are burning out and working in conditions that are unsafe for their own health and that of their patients.

“A recent survey of RCGP members found that 8% of respondents plan to leave in the next year, 15% in the next two, and 34% in the next five years - around half of these are due to retirement, but a quarter cite stress and burnout as the reason for leaving. This could equate to patients losing 3,000 of their family doctors by 2022, 6,000 by 2023, and 14,000 by 2026.

“In some cases, practices are closing completely. Figures show nearly 100 closed in 2020, and whilst some of these may have been due to mergers, others will have been because the workload pressures simply became too much, or vacancies couldn’t be filled, and they were forced to close the doors for good.

“GPs enter general practice to care for patients, and those who are approaching retirement age will have years of knowledge and experience, they’ll have strong relationships with their patients, and they’ll be mentors for those just entering the profession. We can’t afford to lose this.

“The Government has promised 6,000 more GPs, and 26,000 other members of the practice team, by 2024 to address this workforce crisis, but progress is slow. We’re seeing good work happening, with success, to encourage medical students to choose general practice - but we urgently need to see more being done to encourage GPs to stay in the profession, including by addressing ‘undoable’ workload.

“General practice is the backbone of the NHS, making the vast majority of patient contacts and in doing so alleviating pressure on other services across the health service. Our service needs to be safeguarded so that we can continue delivering the care our patients need now and in the future.”

Further information

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RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633/7574/7575
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Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.