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GP leader warns of exodus from the profession

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g5828 (Published 23 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5828
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1The BMJ

The chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners will next week urge the government to act to avert a potential exodus from the profession, as ongoing pressure prompts more UK trained doctors to consider early retirement or working overseas.

Speaking ahead of the college’s annual conference in Liverpool on 2-4 October, Maureen Baker warned that the United Kingdom was letting good doctors “slip through our fingers” and said that urgent action was required to try to prevent more doctors leaving the UK workforce.

Figures released on 19 September by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that UK GPs have seen their income fall for the seventh successive year in real terms, as rises in practice expenses continue to outpace increases in earnings.1 This trend has coincided with a period of escalating demand from patients, which Baker said was leading to more GPs considering “voting with their feet and leaving the profession.”

Figures from the General Medical Council, obtained by The BMJ, show that the number of UK doctors who applied for certificates of good standing, which are typically requested by doctors wishing to register with overseas regulators and to work abroad, rose by 30% between 2008 and 2013 (from 3467 to 4516). In the same period the overall number of UK trained doctors rose by 5% (from 156 512 to 164 691).

Despite the rise in the number of doctors applying for the certificates, the GMC’s chief executive, Niall Dickson, said that there was “no evidence to support the claim that there has been a big increase in the proportion of doctors leaving the UK to practise overseas.” He said, “The figures we collect are for doctors seeking a certificate of good standing, which they need to work overseas. In 2008, 1.7% of doctors on the UK register were granted a certificate; in 2013 it was 1.8%.”

A survey carried out by the BMA in March this year showed that nearly six in every 10 GPs were considering early retirement, with over half stating that their current workload was unmanageable.2

“The mass exodus of GPs—driven by soaring demand and plummeting resources—is a clear and present danger to patient safety,” Baker warned. “GPs enter general practice to provide good quality and safe care for our patients, but this is becoming harder and harder to do as a result of falling funding and diminishing resources. It is easy to understand why working in other countries is becoming so appealing to GPs in the UK.”

Baker said that the workforce problems were exacerbated by a shortage of medical students opting for general practice,3 and she called for an additional 8000 GPs to cope with current demand, alongside a larger share of the overall budget to go to primary care.

“On the one hand GPs are leaving the profession due to intense pressure and a lack of support, and on the other not enough medical students are opting for general practice because they see the pressure we are under.

“We are urging the government to raise the share of general practice funding to 11% by 2017 so that more good doctors don’t slip through our fingers at the expense of patient care.”

The Royal College of General Practitioners’ conference next month, entitled “Future proof: resilience in practice,” aims to tackle the “continued challenges” facing general practice.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5828

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