Around two in every five GPs in the South West have said they intend to quit within the next five years, confirming primary care leaders' fears that the workforce crisis continues to worsen.
Research by Exeter Medical School, in collaboration with Bristol University, has found that seven out of ten GPs in the region intend to change their working patterns in a way that would mean less contact with patients. This includes leaving patient care, taking a career break, or reducing their hours.
More than 2,000 GPs responded to the survey, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and published in BMJ Open.
'The data provides a snapshot of low morale which, if echoed in other regions, could point to a deeper and more imminent crisis than previously anticipated in relation to the worsening shortage of GPs nationwide,' the researchers said.
Need for more than 'sticking plaster solutions'
Lead researcher and GP, professor John Campbell has called for a move away from 'sticking plaster solutions' towards robust, joined-up action to avert the crisis nationwide.
Professor Campbell said: 'We carried out this survey because of a nationally recognised crisis in the shortage of GPs across the country, and our findings show an even bleaker outlook than expected for GP cover, even in an area which is often considered desirable, and which has many rural communities.
'If GPs have similar intentions to leave or reduce their hours in other regions, as many are reporting, the country needs to take robust action more swiftly and urgently than previously thought.'
The researchers found that more than half of GPs (54%) reported low morale. Professor Campbell said: 'Whilst numerous government-led initiatives are underway to address recruitment, there is a need to address the underlying serious malaise which is behind this data. Reactive, sticking-plaster approaches are not the answer.
'GPs and their teams deliver nine out of every ten patient contacts with the NHS but attract just seven pence in every pound of NHS resource; that is unsustainable.'
GPs are 'voting with their feet'
Responding to the study British Medical Council GP committee lead on Education, Training and Workforce, Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, said: 'This study from Exeter Medical School demonstrates once again the enormous crisis facing general practice as it struggles to cope with rising patient demand, stagnating budgets and widespread staff shortages.
'As government figures showed last month, the number of full time GPs is falling as many decide to leave the profession or retire earlier. Many GPs are voting with their feet because of the daily struggle of trying to provide enough appointments to patients without the resources or support they need. Given the uncertainty of whether the UK’s departure from the European Union will result in more overseas doctors leaving the NHS, this shortage could well get even worse in the years to come.
'With the NHS at breaking point, we need the government to take the evidence of a workforce crisis seriously and act to implement a long term, well-funded plan that results in more GPs being available to treat the public.'