GP leaders are warning that more than 500 practices could be forced to close within the next year in England alone as an increasing number of doctors are jumping ship.
Addressing the Royal College of General Practitioners annual conference this week, chair Maureen Baker said within these practices more than 90% of GPs are now aged over 60, when the average retirement age in the profession is 59.
“The crisis in the GP workforce is now so severe that the number of people entering the profession is falling drastically short of the number of GPs who are leaving in their droves to take early retirement, work abroad or pursue entirely different careers,” she said.
Unless drastic action is taken to make sure that there are enough doctors to take their place, thousands of patients could be forced to travel miles to their nearest GP practice or be left stranded with no family doctor at all. Quite how Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan for seven-days-a-week GP access fits with this remains to be seen.
According to the College, more than 1,000 GPs will be leaving the profession on an annual basis by 2022, the number of unfilled GP posts has nearly quadrupled in the last three years, and applications to undertake GP training have dropped by 15%.
To help address the situation, Dr Baker has called for a rescue package that includes slashing the bureaucracy that currently prevents qualified GPs from returning to work after a career break, and specific incentives to encourage more doctors into deprived areas, as well as boost the share of the NHS budget for general practice to 11% by 2017.
England needs nearly 40,100 full-time equivalent GPs in order to meet increasing patient demand, but there are in fact just 32,075. “With a growing, ageing population, not to mention a baby boom, we need to increase capacity in general practice, not take it away,” she stressed.
GP magazine Pulse has also recently launched its Stop Practice Closures campaign, spurred by practices closures across the UK because of funding cuts and a recruitment troubles.
Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told the media that the RCGP data “completely undermines David Cameron's party conference rhetoric”, noting “‘the truth is that this prime minister has presided over a crisis in general practice and collapse in GP morale”.