Britians first medical schoolUp to 5,000 family doctors are prevented by needless red tape from returning to the GP workforce, according to new research.

Doctors who have been on maternity leave or practicing medicine abroad are effectively being disbarred from the GP workforce because of unnecessary bureaucracy, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said.

The RCGP has written to NHS England calling for the regulations of the Performers List – the list that all doctors must be on to work in England – to be applied more flexibly so that GPs who want to return to the workforce are able to do so without coming up against unnecessary and costly bureaucratic hurdles.

While the RCGP accepts that checks need to be carried out to ensure GPs remain competent to treat patients in the UK, it is concerned that the rules are interpreted in an overly bureaucratic fashion that is effectively preventing thousands of trained GPs from treating patients.

The revelation that thousands of GPs could be prevented from working comes at a time of the growing crisis in general practice leading to longer waiting times for GP appointments. It also increases fears among doctors that they could miss something serious in a patient due to their unprecedented workloads.

During the past five years for which figures are available 5,229 GPs under 50 left the workforce – 3151 of them under 40.

As workloads for GPs in England continue to balloon and resources plummet increasing numbers of family doctors are leaving the workforce prematurely either to take a career break, to retire early or to work overseas.

In 2009, 392 GPs under 50 retired left the workforce. But by 2013 this figure had risen to 733.

RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “It seems nonsensical that at a time when we have a chronic shortage of GPs and patients are having to wait longer and longer for a GP appointment that we have a ready-made taskforce of GPs who are being effectively barred from caring for patients because of red tape and an arcane set of rules.

“These are qualified and experienced doctors who could effortlessly slot back in general practice – and ensure that our patients receive the care they need, when they need it.

“We understand that NHS England have their job to do and it is imperative that doctors’ skills are relevant and fit for purpose, but we cannot allow bureaucracy to get in the way of common sense – especially when there are consequences for our patients.

“We need around 8,000 more GPs in England alone to ensure that we can provide safe care to our growing and ageing population. But we are caught in a pincer movement of working age GPs leaving the profession - many before their time because they are burnt out and exhausted - and young medical graduates spurning general practice as a career because they see the pressures that family doctors are under.

“By applying its rules so rigidly, NHS England is helping to make a bad problem even worse. We need to get some flexibility into the system so that we can get competent and willing GPs back into the workforce and doing the job that they do best – providing cost effective care to patients in the community.”