NHS faces ‘mass exodus’ of GPs to England, experts warn

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The NHS faces a ‘mass exodus’ of GPs, experts have warned, as figures reveal nearly one in four nearing retirement amid a growing row of staff and access shortages. family physicians.

Official data shows that 23% of family doctors in England – or more than 6,000 – are 55 or older and are expected to quit in the next few years. The average age at which physicians retire today is 59, and only one in 10 is under 35. The number of doctors retiring early has more than tripled since 2008.

NHS Digital figures also show that nearly four in 10 general practitioners (38%) are aged 50 or over, highlighting a demographic ‘time bomb’ expected to hit surgeries.

Senior doctors said the numbers were a huge concern, especially as burnout and “scrutiny” by politicians prompted thousands more to say they are considering quitting smoking.

The departure of thousands of general practitioners from the profession over the next year is an “increasingly realistic prospect,” said Professor Martin Marshall, President of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP). Some GP practices had already been forced to close their doors for good due to understaffing, he said.

GP chart

The government is facing a growing backlash over the lack of a plan in the budget to address the NHS workforce crisis. NHS providers, who represent the NHS trusts, said staff shortages were ‘the biggest problem with health services’. Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday said Rishi Sunak’s additional £ 5.9bn capital funding for health services “would unwind [very] quickly if there are not enough staff to provide the necessary additional care ”.

Fears that thousands of GPs are retiring come days after doctors threatened industrial action to protest the government’s attempt to force them to see any patient who wants a face-to-face appointment. The latest GP appointment data for England, released on Thursday, shows appointments increased from 3.5 million to 17.3 million over the past month and appointments opposite face to face increased by more than a quarter to 61% of the total. Before the pandemic, around 80% of general medicine appointments were face to face.

The British Medical Association’s (BMA) General Practitioners Committee unanimously voted to reject the plan by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, which included ‘name and humiliate’ surgeries that see too few patients in person. The doctors’ union has decided to hold a ballot on possible industrial action, which could lead family doctors in 6,600 practices in England to reduce their work.

New NHS workforce figures, analyzed by the Liberal Democrats, suggest that with 6,421 GPs aged 55 or older, on average, almost all surgeries in England could soon lose one of his doctors.

Daisy Cooper, Lib Dem spokesperson for health and social services, said: “These numbers reveal the GP retirement time bomb our local communities are facing, with nearly one in four GPs 55 years of age or older. Without urgent action, services will be strained even more while patients will have an even harder time getting appointments.

“The Conservatives must stop using GPs as a punching bag and scapegoating them for the government’s own failures. Instead, the government needs to focus on recruiting the fully qualified GPs it has promised and increasing funding to ease the pressures on surgeries, or risk a mass exodus of staff at a time when we have it. Not needed anymore. “

As of August, there were 27,600 fully trained general practitioners in England, according to figures from NHS Digital. Of these, 2,739 (10%) were 60 years or older and 6,421 (23%) were 55 years or older and nearing retirement.

“When GPs approach retirement age, it does not necessarily mean that they will leave the profession immediately, but in the context of intense workload and pressures on the workforce, coupled with authoritative scrutiny of sections of the media and politicians now, it’s an increasingly realistic prospect and a huge concern, ”Marshall said. “General practitioners burn themselves out and work in conditions that are dangerous to their own health and that of their patients. “

A survey of RCGP members found that 8% of respondents planned to leave in the next year, 15% in the next two years and 34% in the next five years, he said, about half due to retirement and a quarter citing stress and burnout.

“In some cases, the practices shut down completely. The numbers show that nearly 100 closures in 2020 and while some of them may be due to mergers, others will be because workload pressures have simply become too great, or vacancies. could not be filled, and they were forced to close the doors for good. “Said Marshall.

In 2015, the government pledged to hire 5,000 more general practitioners within five years, but the number has been falling instead of increasing. In 2019, the government pledged another 6,000 general practitioners by 2024 to address the workforce crisis, but “progress is slow,” Marshall said. “We are seeing good work happening, with success, to encourage medical students to choose general practice – but we urgently need to see more efforts to encourage general practitioners to stay in the profession, especially in the future. attacking the “irreversible” workload. “

The BMA said the budget also failed to address the issue of doctors retiring early in order to avoid being hit by heavy pension tax bills. The chairman of his pensions committee, Dr Vishal Sharma, said: ‘It is so frustrating to see the Chancellor miss an important opportunity to help keep thousands of doctors working in the NHS. It’s great to announce almost £ 6bn of capital investment for the NHS, but with no plans to increase staff or, most importantly, to ensure that we retain the doctors we have, the impact on the huge backlog of patients requiring care will be minimal. “

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