Up to 600 GP practices across the UK could be forced to close within the next year because of a deepening crisis in GP recruitment and retention.
New figures released by the Royal College of General Practitioners show that more than 90% of the GPs working in these practices are now aged over 60. This will leave many practices unable to replace family doctors who are retiring from the profession.
The alarm bells for the future of patient care were sounded by Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the RCGP in her inaugural speech to the College’s national conference in Liverpool yesterday.
Addressing an audience of over 2,000 GPs and health professionals, Dr Baker warned that the crisis in the GP workforce is now so severe that the number of people entering the profession is falling drastically short of the number of GPs who are leaving to take early retirement or work abroad.
The RCGP estimates that:
- More than 1,000 GPs will be leaving the profession on an annual basis by 2022
- Around 22% of GPs in London could step back from front line patient care within the next 5 years (with 41% of London GPs being over 50)
- The number of unfilled GP posts has nearly quadrupled in the last three years (2.1% in 2010 to 7.9% in 2013).
Meanwhile, it was estimated in March that applications to undertake GP training had dropped by 15%, with only 40% of medical graduates choosing to enter general practice training – as opposed to training for other specialties – despite a national target to ensure that by 50% of medical graduates go into general practice.
Dr Baker is demanding a rescue package – a ‘new deal’ – for general practice that includes cutting back on the bureaucracy that revents qualified GPs from returning to work after a career break, and specific incentives to encourage more doctors into deprived areas, that are currently under-doctored.
While the RCGP estimates that England needs nearly 40,100 full-time equivalent GPs to meet increasing patient demand, there are only 32,075 family doctors.
Overall, Dr Baker said the RCGP is calling on all four governments of the UK to increase the share of the NHS budget for general practice – currently at an historic low of just over 8% – to 11% by 2017.
Every day, GPs and their teams carry out 1.4 million consultations and over 90% of patient contacts within the NHS are managed in general practice.