A small study involving GPs based in the South West has revealed the key factors driving a large number of doctors out of the profession, prompting GPs leaders to warn that the workforce is in a “precarious state”.

The research, undertaken by the University of Exeter and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), was spurred by findings of a study last year that two out of every five GPs in the South West are planning to step away from direct patient care within five years.

Researchers interviewed 41 GPs for the study, which highlighted three key themes: a sense that general practice based primary care was under-valued within the healthcare system; concerns over professional risk in the increasingly complex health environment; and considerations about leaving or remaining in direct patient care.

“Our new research is a significant study of what is driving the exodus of GPs from direct patient care,” said Exeter University’s Professor John Campbell.

“Policy makers need to take this onboard and address these issues to retain GPs and encourage medical students to take up a career in general practice. Despite recent government plans to address the problem, numbers are continuing to fall.

“If we do not act now, many areas will face a severe shortfall in the number of GPs providing care for patients their area.”

GP leaders have long warned over a growing workforce crisis in the profession, as the number of unfilled posts quadrupled between 2012 and 2014 and the numbers of GPs dropped significantly.

Despite new government measures in 2015 designed to train an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020 and boost the proportion of medical students choosing general practice as a career, it emerged that more than 1,000 GPs jumped ship between between 2016 and 2017.

“We now need sustained, strategic, and stable planning of health services – not a series of short-term ‘fixes’ which only destabilise clinical care further. Innovation is essential, but needs to be based on firm evidence,” Professor Campbell added.

"GP workload has increased by at least 16 percent over the last seven years – and become far more complex - but the share of the overall NHS budget that general practice receives is less that it was a decade ago, and our workforce has not risen at pace,” noted Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.

"The relentless pressure has simply become too much for many GPs. Our workforce is in a precarious state – and currently well-intentioned plans to increase GP numbers in the NHS are at risk of falling short of target.”