27 September 2016

Retaining GPs Must Be as Big a Priority as Recruiting New Ones, RCGP Urges Government

Professor Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, has written to Health Secretary in England Jeremy Hunt, urging him that he must make retaining the GP workforce a priority.

In the letter she acknowledges the pledge made in NHS England’s GP Forward View to increase the number of doctors working in general practice by 5,000 by 2020 -  but emphasises that this cannot be achieved through recruitment initiatives alone.

The College has released analysis showing that 467 practices in England – 594 across the UK – are at risk of closure because 75% or more of the GPs who work in them are aged 55 and over.  

It warns that if nothing is done to address this at both ends of the workforce spectrum, patient safety could be at risk as practices close and patients are forced to travel miles to their nearest surgery.

The College has launched Think GP – a series of videos and guide to highlight the excitement and challenge of a career in general practice, in order to attract more medical students to the profession. 

Professor Baker is now calling on Mr Hunt to introduce a five-point plan of specific initiatives to retain existing GPs in the workforce, including:

  1. A comprehensive, flexible careers planning scheme for older GPs looking at opportunities to keep older GPs engaged in the workforce in whatever capacity is appropriate for them.
  2. A bursary to support continuing professional development and help older GPs meet the costs of indemnity, which can be a barrier to older GPs continuing to work flexibly.
  3. A Government review of pension arrangements to ensure that pensions are not a disincentive to continuing to work for older GPs.
  4. Priority for older GPs in the rollout of the medical assistants pilot as administrative burdens are often cited as contributing to GPs’ decisions to retire early.
  5. A mentoring and job sharing scheme that matches older GPs with GPs returning to work after having children.  This would enable GPs to have a staged return to practice and older GPs have a staged retirement.  It would also support the transfer of knowledge from older GPs to younger GPs. 

Professor Baker said: “Older GPs have so much to give to their patients, their colleagues and the wider NHS, yet we are at risk of ‘brain drain’ on a massive scale. Even with the significant levels of investment promised in NHS England’s GP Forward View, this cannot be replaced overnight, if ever.

 “Many GPs approaching retirement want to keep on practising but also want to develop other interests, medical and otherwise. But there are currently very few opportunities for them to do this, without leaving the profession altogether.

“At a time when patients in some areas of the country are waiting up to a month for an appointment and people are living longer but with many and complex  long term conditions, this is a tragic waste of talent and expert knowledge.

“If we fail to address this, the consequences for the health service could be dire – and it is patients who will ultimately bear the brunt by not being able to see their GP when they need to.

“In the most extreme cases, practices could close, forcing patients to travel long distances to other practices, or being left with no GP  at all. Our recent research suggests that nearly 600 practices across the UK are at risk of closure because the majority of GPs that run and work in them are at or approaching retirement age.

“General practice is caught in a pincer movement of GPs leaving the profession but not enough medical students choosing to go into general practice. We have launched our Think GP campaign to attract more people into the profession – but we need similar schemes to persuade practising GPs to stay, and that is what we are calling on the Health Secretary to establish and champion.

“If we are to have a robust general practice service to ensure safe patient care, and a sustainable NHS, in the future, we need to work together to do everything we possibly can to promote the ‘3Rs’: recruit, return and retain, as a matter of urgency.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.