The British Medical Association is warning that the current crisis in general practice - driven by soaring demand, recruitment/retention issues and funding difficulties - looks set to worsen with potentially thousands of doctors in England considering leaving the profession.

In a survey for the union, 46 percent of responding practices (2,830) reported having GPs either considering retirement or leaving the National Health Service in the next 12 months. This, it says, is particularly worrisome given that there were a record 600 GP trainee posts unfilled last year.

In other findings, half of practices said workload is ‘unmanageable a lot of the time’ or all of the time (12.5 percent), while the vast majority (91.3 percent) said demand for appointments had grown in the last 12 months. Around 10% of practices reported that their finances were so weak that they were financially unsustainable, while a further fifth said that their finances were weak but they had plans to improve them.

“Given these pressures it is unsurprising that GPs are considering leaving the NHS while new medical graduates are turning their backs on careers as GPs,” said BMA GPs committee chair Chaand Nagpaul. “With hundreds of GP practices facing financial uncertainty, and close to 300 practices facing possible closure, we need the Government to act urgently to deliver a comprehensive rescue package that safeguards GP services for patients.”

The Association has launched a campaign, Our Urgent prescription for general practice, calling for: safe, manageable workload; more time with patients; increased practice funding; more staff to support GPs; and less box ticking.

Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said findings of the BMA’s survey echo what the College has been saying through our its Put patients first: Back general practice campaign, “that relentless patient demand coupled with decreasing resources is a threat to our profession, and our patients’ safety”.

GPs are now making more than 370 million consultations a year - 60 million more than five years ago - to keep up with the surging demands of a growing and ageing population, many of which are presenting with complex multiple conditions. “Yet funding for general practice has declined dramatically in real terms over the last ten years, and our workforce has remained relatively stagnant,” she said.

It is essential that the package of measures promised by the government to address the growing pressures facing general practice includes “more investment in general practice, initiatives to 'recruit retain and return' thousands more GPs and practice staff, and measures to cut unnecessary red tape that is taking family doctors away from frontline patient care,” Dr Baker stressed, and reiterated calls for an increase in GP funding to 11% of the NHS budget.