In 2013, my practice advertised in the British Medical Journal, on two occasions, for a salaried GP with a view to partnership. This recruitment process resulted in only one credible candidate. At the time my surgery constructed an unconvincing narrative to explain our failure to recruit. During the year and early in 2014 we spoke with other surgeries in Oxfordshire and realised that we were not alone in being unable to recruit.
In April 2014 we ran a Survey Monkey questionnaire across GP practices in Oxfordshire. We received 167 replies in the space of a few days. This convinced us that there was a serious situation developing that could affect the future of General Practice. At the end of June 2014, at the request of a group of concerned GPs from North and North-East Oxfordshire the survey was amended to include additional questions in order to assess whether the perception of a developing crisis in General Practice was real and, if so, to provide evidence to policy makers to address the developing crisis as a matter of urgency. The questionnaire was circulated as widely as possible.
The survey appeared to touch a nerve in general practice. It was first circulated on 30 June 2014 and when closed on 25th July 2014 had received over 2769 responses from across England, with the majority of responses from GPs including partners, salaried, sessional and locums.
The results are chilling.
- 80% report that one or more GPs in their practice is suffering ‘burnout’ due to increasing and unsustainable pressure of work.
- 10% report that their practice is currently not financially viable and only 3% feel their practice would be financially viable in the long term.
- 50% of GPs indicate that they will either retire or take a career break within the next five years with a mode age band of 45 to 54.
- 11.6% of GPs indicate that they intend to emigrate within the next five years with a mode age band of 35 to 44.
- 97% feel their practice is experiencing an ever-increasing and unsustainable workload
- 55% of respondents are not confident their practice will exist in five years’ time.
- 80% of respondents are not confident their practice will exist in 10 years’ time.
- 70% indicate that, in the event of the demise the partnership model of General Practice, they would be unwilling to work for a private provider.
- 82% feel that General Practice needs to attract more doctors willing and able to work full-time.
- 52% feel that the partnership model of General Practice is becoming unsustainable for the future
- 61% report that it is not easy to recruit new GP partners whilst only 10% of respondents report that it is easy to recruit new GP partners.
- 52% report that it is not easy to recruit new salaried GPs whereas only 16% report that it is easy to recruit new salaried GPs.
- 56% report that it is not easy to recruit locum GPs whilst only 19% report that it is easy to recruit locum GPs.
- 68% feel that their referral rate is likely to increase in order to accommodate the increased workload from secondary care
- 46% would feel comfortable rejecting work from secondary and community care in the event of being unable to recruit sufficient doctors and practice nurses to replace those retiring. 44% report they would feel uncomfortable with this proposition.
- 75% of respondents would support asking the Secretary of State to suspend contract management on the Avoidable Admissions Directed Enhanced Service.
In addition to the raw but compelling quantitative data obtained from the questionnaire, there is a significant amount of free text for each question and over 26000 words of free text addressing issues not raised by the questionnaire. Each response has been analysed and one or more themes assigned to each response. The responses have been grouped by themes in Section 2 of this document. Many responses have one or more themes and so one response may appear in more than one theme group. Initial analysis identifies several recurrent themes. These include:
- Low morale due to constant GP Bashing by Government and the media.
- High levels of burnout
- Unsustainable Workload
- Failure to recruit and retain
- Compromising of family relationships due to demands of General Practice
- Unrealistic patient expectations.
- Secondary Care
- Funding – for general practice in general – not increasing GP income – just not reducing it.
The main conclusion to be drawn from the interim results of this questionnaire is that General Practice is facing a crisis and that this crisis, unless addressed urgently, will leave General Practice so depleted as to be unable to deliver the government’s strategy for primary care – shifting work from Secondary to Primary Care – as outlined in the Department of Health document “Transforming Primary Care”.
In survey, it was only been possible to identify what are the problems facing General Practice. It was beyond the scope of this questionnaire to identify the root causes of these problems and to offer solutions as to how these problems might be addressed.
This study has identified a crisis in General Practice. It is now a matter of urgency that the root causes of the crisis are identified and addressed. It is recommended that an independent commission into the state of not just General Practice but the whole of primary care, including community nursing, is established as a matter of urgency.
With specific reference to General Practice, the commission should investigate:
- Why young doctors are not entering general practice?
- Why mid-career and senior GPs are considering leaving general practice?
- What can be done to make general practice once more an attractive career for dedicated and talented doctors?
Read the full report with access to the 26,000+ words of free text comment giving an insight into what it is really like to be a GP in the NHS today.