One in three family GPs ‘on the brink of retiring’

GP leaders have called for urgent action to recruit and retain doctors as a new survey revealed a third of Scottish GPs hope to retire in the next five years.

The BMA found 32 per cent of doctors said they intended to retire from general practice. Picture: TSPL
The BMA found 32 per cent of doctors said they intended to retire from general practice. Picture: TSPL

Stretched practitioners reported “relentless and rising” workloads and work-related stress to the British Medical Association (BMA), which surveyed just under 40 per cent of the 4,918 GPs working in Scotland.

The body has previously reported a recruitment crisis in the profession, as one in five practices in Scotland have a vacancy. GPs north of the Border can earn up to £88,800.

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Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said: “General practice appears to be on the brink of a workforce crisis. The prospect of the relentless and rising workload along with the frustrations of bureaucracy is driving doctors out of the profession and putting young doctors off entering general practice.”

In a survey published today, the BMA found 32 per cent of doctors said they intended to retire from general practice, while 14 per cent said they intended to move to part-time working.

It also found 69 per cent said workload had a negative impact on their personal commitment to a career in general practice, and 80 per cent said that they experienced significant levels of work-related stress, although 69 per cent felt it was manageable.

More than 50 per cent would still recommend a career in general practice, Dr Buist said, but warned the pressures of the day-to-day job are “dampening that enthusiasm and leading to a burnout within the profession”.

He said: “To make general practice an attractive career option, our politicians need to recognise that general practice in Scotland is workload-saturated; they should focus on what they can do to support GPs to provide the range and quality of care that our patients need within the constraints that exist.”

His concerns were echoed by Dr Elaine McNaughton, deputy chair of Royal College of GPs Scotland, who said recruitment was not on track this year, leaving the number of trainee doctors at a critically low level.

Dr McNaughton, who worked as a GP in Carnoustie for many years, said: “We must see a commitment from Scottish Government to counter the recruitment crisis through promoting general practice as the rewarding and attractive career it will be if the current pressures are addressed.”

There should be enhanced support for people returning after a career break, as well as a bid to widen the primary care workforce by supporting the recruitment and training of pharmacists and nurses.

Dr McNaughton rubbished the government’s recent claim that GP numbers have risen by 6.9 per cent, as she said a study in 2013 put the number of whole-time equivalent GPs at 3,735, compared to 3,700 in 2009.

She added: “Despite the relentless efforts of GPs, services to patients continue to suffer while GPs have dealt with a 10 per cent increase in the number of consultations they carry out over the last decade and government presides over a cut in percentage share of NHS spending for general practice of over a fifth.”

Health secretary Shona Robison argued that 80 per cent of GPs in Scotland are under 55 years old, and the number of GPs thinking about retiring in the next five years compares favourably with the rest of the UK.

She said: “Early retirement is a life-choice based on financial and other personal circumstances for the individual concerned. It should be remembered that a number of GPs who take early retirement also choose to come back and do locum work part-time so are not necessarily completely lost to general practice.”

Ms Robison added: “We are determined to continue supporting and sustaining Scottish general practice. Under this government, spending on GP services has increased by £69.7 million or 10 per cent.”

Last week, Scottish GP leaders warned that heavy workloads were affecting patient care.