GP workforce experiencing 'worrying workload' amid staff shortages

In 10 years' time, 25% of general practice roles are expected to be vacant. The Royal College of General Practitioners is calling for more support for those in the profession.

They are our first point of call when we are unwell and are seeking reassurance.

But the GP workforce is in crisis because of crippling shortages, that’s the stark warning from the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners as he addressed some 3,000 doctors from across the nation at their annual conference in London.

Professor Martin Marshall sympathised with staff as he told them GPs “are experiencing the most worrying workload crisis in decades”.

It is leading to a growing exodus of staff.

Whilst some practices are struggling to recruit, they are simultaneously struggling to hang on to existing staff members who are expected to cope with insufferable demands on the service.

The Health Foundation think-tank ‘REAL Centre’ published data showing the scale of vacancies across England, with estimates suggesting a quarter of posts could be vacant in the next 10 years.

It found the current shortage of 4,200 full-time equivalent GPs in England is projected to rise to 10,700 in 2030.

Speaking to Sky News, Professor Marshall addressed the stark number of vacancies: “We know that there’s a workforce crisis in general practice, particularly amongst the GPs.

“We are training a lot of GPs which is good, but we’re losing more GPs in the middle, and particularly towards the end of their career, as a consequence of being burnt out.

“The problem is holding on to new recruits. It’s such a difficult job to do well, because of the workload pressures. They are inclined often to work part-time, and often to retire early as well. So retention is really the biggest problem we’ve got.

“There is a real risk of a downward spiral.”

In 10 years’ time, 25% of general practice roles are expected to be vacant.

The Royal College of General Practitioners is calling for more support for those in the profession – reducing paperwork and investing in additional staff will help practices stay afloat, Professor Marshall said.

He said: “It’s partly about supporting GPs to do the kind of job that they wanted to do when they joined the workforce.

“For example, reducing bureaucracy and a lot of work that we do when we’re not caring for patients. It’s about ticking boxes, filling out paperwork, and that’s just not a good use of the training that we have.

“We need a larger workforce other than GPs as well. There’s a lot of nurses and pharmacists and physios and mental health workers who work with us and we need to be able to support them as well.”

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The pressures are leading some in Dr Yusuf Rajbee’s practice, the Portland Medical Centre, to choose between family and patients.

Speaking to Sky News he explained the difficult decisions staff are making in order to keep patients safe: “It’s carnage.

“Doctors are having to face choices in practices pretty much daily, maybe even hour an hour. Do I do even more work beyond what I feel safe to do in order to see this patient who really needs to be seen or do I preserve my own health and my own life and my own marriage?

“If I choose to go home and preserve my relationship with my kids – I’ll accept that this patient will not be seen, knowing they might have to go to a walk-in centre or to A&E which will patch them up but won’t deal with their long term issue.

“That’s the choice we’re facing all the time on a frightening scale.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Sky News: “We are hugely grateful to GPs and their staff for the care they provide to patients and we are working hard to support and grow the workforce in order to bust the Covid backlogs.

“Numbers of doctors in general practice are increasing – there are record numbers in GP training, and over 1,400 more full time equivalent doctors in general practice in March 2022 compared to March 2019.

“We have invested £520 million to improve access and expand GP capacity and we are helping to create an extra 50 million appointments a year.”

Those in the industry say boosting recruitment is welcome, but retaining staff is not a quick fix.

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