Around two in every five GPs in the south west have said they intend to quit within the next five years, exposing the magnitude of the region’s impending healthcare crisis and suggesting that the picture for the UK may be particularly challenging.
The University of Exeter’s recent large-scale survey of GPs across the region also found that seven out of 10 GPs intend to change their working patterns in a way that would mean less contact with patients.
This included leaving patient care, taking a career break, or reducing their hours.
More than 2,000 GPs responded to the survey, in research which involved collaboration with Bristol University. It was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and published this week in BMJ Open.
The data provides a snapshot of low morale which, if echoed in other regions, could point to a deeper and more imminent crisis than previously anticipated in relation to the worsening shortage of GPs nationwide.
Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the research, has called for a move away from “sticking plaster solutions” towards robust, joined-up action to avert the crisis nationwide.
Professor Campbell, a practising GP, said: “We carried out this survey because of a nationally recognised crisis in the shortage of GPs across the country.
“Our findings show an even bleaker outlook than expected for GP cover, even in an area which is often considered to be desirable, and which has many rural communities.
“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.”
Over the past four years, a crisis has been developing around the national GP workforce. The number of unfilled GP posts quadrupled between 2012 and 2014, while the number of GPs fell substantially.
The national situation prompted political action, with the Government announcing measures to train 5,000 new GPs in 2015, and to increase the proportion of medical students who choose general practice as a career.
In response, and to get a true picture of the scale of the problem in the region, the research team sent surveys to 3,370 GPs across the South West, and received responses from 2,248.
The study found that more than half of GPs – 54 per cent – reported low morale. This group was particularly likely to indicate that they intended to leave the profession.
The researchers conclude that the findings highlight the magnitude of the potential GP shortage crisis that is facing the region, and reflect the current state of general practice in the UK.