Two in every five GPs are planning to quit the NHS, a new survey suggests, amid warnings that “perilously” low morale among family doctors is fuelling an “enormous crisis” in frontline healthcare.
Jeremy Hunt has said GP surgeries should be open seven days a week, from 8am to 8pm, and has announced plans to place doctor generalists in A&E departments to help ease overwhelming pressures faced by NHS hospitals.
But the British Medical Association (BMA) said GPs across the country were already “struggling to cope with rising patient demand, stagnating budgets and widespread staff shortages” – and warned this could get worse if Brexit results in an exodus of doctors from overseas.
Academics at Exeter Medical School surveyed more than 2,000 GPs, with over half reporting low morale.
The researchers said the Government “needs to take robust action more swiftly and urgently than previously thought” to avert a crisis if their results were echoed in other regions.
The number of GPs working full-time has fallen, according to figures published last month, despite Government proposals to recruit 5,000 more by 2020. There are now 34,500 GPs in the NHS, a decrease of 0.3 per cent from last year. A BMA survey of 3,500 GPs in England found around a third of practices had vacancies for doctors they had been unable to fill for at least a year.
There has also been a 15 per cent rise in the total number of GP consultations in the last five years, according to The King’s Fund – three times the overall growth rate of the GP workforce in that period.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the NHS is “haemorrhaging highly trained, experienced GPs at an alarming rate.”
“General practice is currently facing intense workload and resource pressures – these figures show it is severely impacting our workforce, and we fear they are indicative of the situation right across the UK,” said Professor Stokes-Lampard. “The future of the NHS relies on having a robust general practice service, with enough GPs to deliver the safe care and services our patients need.”
Dr Krishna Kasaranei, of the BMA, said: “Many GPs are voting with their feet because of the daily struggle of trying to provide enough appointments to patients without the resources or support they need.
“Given the uncertainty of whether the UK’s departure from the European Union will result in more overseas doctors leaving the NHS, this shortage could well get even worse in the years to come.”
John Campbell, a professor at Exeter Medical School, and his team sent the surveys to 3,370 GPs across the region and received responses from 2,248.
Low morale was reported by 54 per cent and seven out of 10 said they intend to change their working patterns in a way that would mean less contact with patients – such as leaving patient care, taking a career break, or reducing their hours. 40 per cent said they intended to quit patient care, which the researchers attributed to an “underlying serious malaise” in the profession.
The doctors surveyed were all working in the southwest of England, but the BMA and RCGP said the findings were applicable across the UK.
“Our findings show an even bleaker outlook than expected for GP cover, even in an area which is often considered desirable, and which has many rural communities,” said Professor Campbell.
“If GPs have similar intentions to leave or reduce their hours in other regions, as many are reporting, the country needs to take robust action more swiftly and urgently than previously thought.”
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
1/6 The elderly
“We acknowledge that there are pressures on the health service, there are always extra pressures on the NHS in the winter, but we have the added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population,” Theresa May has said. Waits of over 12 hours in A&E among elderly people have more than doubled in two years, according to figures from NHS Digital.
2/6 Patients going to A&E instead of seeing their GPs
Jeremy Hunt has called for a “honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments”, saying that around a third of A&E patients were in hospital unnecessarily. Mr Hunt told Radio 4’s Today programme the NHS now had more doctors, nurses and funding than ever, but explained what he called “very serious problems at some hospitals” by suggesting pressures were increasing in part because people are going to A&Es when they should not. He urged patients to visit their GP for non-emergency illnesses, outlined plans to release time for family doctors to support urgent care work, and said the NHS will soon be able to deliver seven-day access to a GP from 8am to 8pm. But doctors struggling amid a GP recruitment crisis said Mr Hunt’s plans were unrealistic and demanded the Government commit to investing in all areas of the overstretched health service.
3/6 Simon Stevens, head of NHS England
Reports that “key members” of Ms May’s team used internal meetings to accuse Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, of being unenthusiastic and unresponsive have been rejected by Downing Street. Mr Stevens had allegedly rejected claims made by Ms May that the NHS had been given more funding than required.
4/6 Previous health policy, not funding
In an interview with Sky News’s Sophy Ridge, Ms May acknowledged the NHS faced pressures but said it was a problem that had been “ducked by government over the years”. She refuted the claim that hospitals were tackling a “humanitarian crisis” and said health funding was at record levels. “We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding that it would need,” said the Prime Minister. “They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required… Funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in.” But doctors accused Ms May of being “in denial” about how the lack of additional funding provided for health and social care were behind a spiralling crisis in NHS hospitals.
5/6 Target to treat all A&E patients within four hours
Mr Hunt was accused of watering down the flagship target to treat all A&E patients within four hours. The Health Secretary told MPs the promise – introduced by Tony Blair’s government in 2000 – should only be for “those who actually need it”. Amid jeers in the Commons, Mr Hunt said only four other countries pledged to treat all patients within a similar timeframe and all had “less stringent” rules. But Ms May has now said the Government will stand by the four-hour target for A&E, which says 95 per cent of patients must be dealt with within that time frame.
6/6 No one
Mr Hunt was accused of “hiding” from the public eye following news of the Red Cross’s comments and didn’t make an official statement for two days. He was also filmed refusing to answer questions from journalists who pursued him down the street yesterday to ask whether he planned to scrap the four-hour A&E waiting time target. Sky News reporter Beth Rigby pressed the Health Secretary on his position on the matter, saying “the public will want to know, Mr Hunt”. “Sorry Beth, I’ve answered questions about this already,” replied Mr Hunt. “But you didn’t answer questions on this. You said it was over-interpreted in the House of Commons and you didn’t want to water it down. Is that what you’re saying?” said Ms Rigby. “It’s very difficult, because how are we going to explain to the public what your intention is, when you change your position and then won’t answer the question, Mr Hunt”. But the Health Secretary maintained his silence until he reached his car and got in.
He added: “Whilst numerous Government-led initiatives are under way to address recruitment, there is a need to address the underlying serious malaise which is behind this data.
“We are in a perilous situation in England, with poor morale of the current GP workforce, and major difficulties with recruitment and retention of GPs reflected in the stark overall reduction in the GP workforce. Reactive, sticking-plaster approaches are not the answer.”
Professor Campbell said GPs and their teams deliver nine out of every 10 patient contacts with the NHS but attract just seven pence in every pound of NHS spending.
Workload pressures were compounded by an ageing GP workforce, he said, adding that 30 per cent of GPs are over 50 years old and many younger GPs do not want to take on the financial risk and responsibilities involved in running a practice.
David Wrigley, chair of the union group Doctors In Unite, told The Independent: “There is a crisis across the country, and this has been brewing up for years. Surgeries are closing around the country – one near me closed last month due to the inability to recruit a new doctor.
"You’ve got GPs working 12 or 13 hour days non-stop which is not safe… I know GPs running a practice who have left in their mid-40s, when they’d usually have 15 years left in the NHS, but they just can’t cope with continuing.
"This is all down to politicians’ failures to invest in the NHS. They’re living in cloud cuckoo land, they haven’t got any idea about what’s going on in the ground in general practice. We’re working flat out to see our patients and try and give them a good service, and the Government are then saying, ‘you can go and work in A&E’. Well, what happens to the patients in our practice? They want us to provide a seven-day service when we’re struggling to provide a five-day service.”Reuse content