A new campaign calls on the Government to deliver on its commitment to recruit additional GPs and tackle the issues driving existing doctors out of the profession

A stressed male doctor with his head on his hands behind a pile of work.

Unmanageable workloads, professional burnout, and a shortage of doctors are leading to a crisis in general practice, a GP group has warned.

A new poll of GPs in England, Wales, and Scotland has found that more than half of GP practices have lost staff over the last 5 years due to work pressures, abuse, and mental health issues.

The Rebuild General Practice campaign called on the Government to deliver on its commitment to recruit an additional 6000 GPs in England by 2024, and to tackle the issues that are driving existing doctors out of the profession.

The call came as the latest official figures showed that there were 369 fewer fully qualified GPs in England in March 2022 compared with the same month last year.

GPs pushed to the brink

The online survey of 1395 GPs, conducted in early March by James Law Research Associates on behalf of the campaign group, found that:

  • 84% have experienced anxiety, stress, or depression in the past year
  • 24% know of colleagues who have taken their own lives because of work pressures
  • 56% of GPs and their staff have been abused while working in the past year.

The poll also found that only 10% of Welsh GPs, and 11% of Scottish GPs, believe that their practice is safe for patients at all times, with the majority saying that the situation is deteriorating.

In England, an analysis by the British Medical Association (BMA) suggested that 2000 full-time equivalent GPs have been lost since 2015. That, coupled with rising patient demand, has contributed to English GPs seeing an average of 46 patients a day, far in excess of the 25 considered safe, the campaign group said.

Welsh GPs are seeing an average of 33 patients a day, eight above the safe limit, whereas their colleagues in Scotland are seeing 28 patients a day—three above the safe limit, according to the same BMA source.

A crisis for GPs

Dr Rachel Ward from the Rebuild General Practice campaign said: ‘This is a crisis for GPs and an emergency for patients.

‘Years of underfunding and neglect has severely damaged general practice leaving us with a skeleton staff across Great Britain and no plan for filling the gaps.

‘Meanwhile, patient appointments are at an all-time high. As GPs we are trying to find solutions, and we are crying out for help—for our patients, but also as human beings who are simply trying to offer excellent care and look after our communities.’

To highlight their concerns ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, the GP group has released a short video in which doctors speak out about concerns for themselves and their colleagues and appeal to the Government to recruit and retain more GPs.

Shrinking GP workforce

Figures released by NHS Digital on Thursday showed there were 27,769 fully qualified GPs in England in March this year, a decrease of 1.3% over 12 months.

Commenting on the data, Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP Committee Deputy Chair, said: ‘Last month, appointments in England were up by 4 million–while GP numbers continued to spiral downwards. This is completely untenable for practices, for GPs, and for patients.

‘Compared with this time a year ago, England has the equivalent of 369 fewer full-time, fully qualified GPs—having lost 30 in the most recent month alone. This means each day there is one less doctor for patients to see.

‘On top of that, we have lost almost 1600, fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs since 2015.

‘This trend, of demand rocketing while we haemorrhage doctors, is pushing the remaining staff to breaking point as they take on more and more each day, to a point which is not safe for them, and certainly not safe for patients.’

The campaign is funded by the BMA and the General Practitioners Defence Fund.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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