GP exodus will leave a quarter of posts empty within a decade

·3 min read
Doctors
Doctors

The exodus of general practitioners could mean a quarter of posts will be vacant within a decade, new analysis suggests.

The Health Foundation think tank called for urgent action as it published a forecast showing there could be thousands of vacancies across England.

It found the current shortage of 4,200 full-time equivalent GPs in England is set to rise to 10,700 in 2030-31.

The analysts said this could mean more than one in four of the 37,800 GP posts needed to deliver pre-pandemic standards of care would be vacant.

Under a worst-case scenario, up to half of posts could be vacant and the projected shortfall could rise to more than 20,000.

The researchers warned that shortages of GPs could pose a significant risk to the quality of care patients receive.

It was also estimated there could be 6,400 nursing vacancies in GP surgeries by 2030/31.

The Health Foundation analysis suggested the Government is unlikely to reach its 2019 manifesto target of hiring 6,000 additional GPs by 2023/24.

While the overall number of GPs might be around 3,000 higher in 2023/24 than in 2018/19, it said the number of qualified permanent GPs is projected to have fallen by around 1,000, so any overall increase will be attributable to higher numbers of GP trainees and locums.

The analysis comes after a Royal College of General Practitioners survey found almost 19,000 family doctors plan to leave the NHS in the next five years due to retirement, stress and burnout.

‘Things are set to get worse, not better’

Anita Charlesworth, from the Health Foundation, said: “England’s GP services are under huge pressure.

“It’s sobering that over the next decade things are set to get worse, not better, with a growing shortage of GPs and practice nurses.

“While these issues are not unique to England, it is critical that Government takes action to protect general practice and avoid it getting locked in a vicious cycle of rising workload driving staff to leave, in turn creating more pressure on remaining staff and fuelling even more departures.”

It comes after GPs threatened the possibility of industrial action over a contract that forces them to offer appointments on evenings and at weekends.

In March, NHS England announced changes to the 2022/23 GP contract, saying doctors need to make at least 25 per cent of appointments available for online booking while also extending opening hours.

But medics at the British Medical Association’s annual conference in Brighton called on the union to “organise opposition” to the contract.

Commenting on the analysis, Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “The Government must act to mitigate these projections and ensure their worst-case scenario projections do not become a reality, which would be a disaster for patient care and the NHS as a whole.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, added: “First-class, accessible GP services are the bedrock of the NHS, helping people to stay healthy as well as being the gateway to specialist care for those who need it.

“More investment to attract, keep hold of and develop GPs and other essential primary care professionals is vital.”

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