GP workforce capacity is in the spotlight again after new research published in BMJ Open found that around two in every five working within direct patient care in South West England are intending to permanently quit direct patient care within the next five years.

The University of Exeter study found that, of 2,177 GP participants from the region included in the analysis, 473 (weighted percentage 20.3 percent) reported a high likelihood of quitting direct patient care within the next two years and 863 (36.8 percent) within the next five years.

A further GP workforce reduction in this region through reduction of weekly average hours or taking a career break was ask highlighted by the research as an “impending risk”, given that 1,252 (56.7 percent) participants said they were likely to cut hours and 770 (36.3 percent) intending to take a career break within the next five years.

Taken together, 1,535 (70.0 percent) of GPs said they were likely/very likely to pursue a career intention that would potentially adversely impact the workforce available in South West England within the next five years, the study authors noted.

It was also found that the majority of participants had low morale, with a substantially greater proportion of participants (1,195; 54.4 percent) reporting ‘low’ or ‘very low’ levels of morale versus just 305 (14.2 percent) describing their morale as ‘high’ or ‘very high’.

The researchers conclude that their survey “identifies the magnitude of the problem in South West England” with regard to the GP workforce and also highlights the “important role of morale” in that challenge.

“Acknowledgement of the magnitude of the problems is urgently required, along with implementation and monitoring of relevant policy and strategy. Failure to do so will risk serious adverse effects on the capacity and ability of the NHS to provide effective primary care to the UK population,” they warn.

“Despite successful efforts to recruit more family doctors, and make it easier for people to return to practice after a career break or period working abroad, we are still haemorrhaging highly trained, experienced GPs at an alarming rate,” said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).

“General practice is currently facing intense workload and resource pressures - these figures show it is severely impacting our workforce, and we fear they are indicative of the situation right across the UK.

“As well as stepping up efforts to recruit more GPs and make general practice an attractive profession, it is clear that we also new initiatives to improve retention - such as those the College presented to the Government last year - implemented as a matter of urgency.”

Recent figures published by NHS Digital show that, in direct contrast to Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to recruit 5,000 more GPs to help meet rising demand for services, the total number now stands at 34,500 - marking a decrease of 0.3 percent.