Four in 10 GPs quit after five years of training

Four in ten GPs quit the NHS within five years of finishing their training.

Many switch to short-term locum work on much higher pay and better hours. Others practise abroad or leave the profession entirely.

Each will have cost taxpayers around £500,000 to train over ten years. The recruitment crisis yesterday led Home Secretary Sajid Javid to relax visa rules to allow more foreign doctors into Britain.

Figures on the high fallout rate were disclosed yesterday by Ian Cumming, head of the NHS’s staffing body.

‘Forty per cent of all the people who completed training five years ago as GPs are not working in substantive GP employment or as long-term locums,’ he said. ‘They are doing short-term locums, they are doing other things.

The recruitment crisis yesterday led Home Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured) to relax visa rules to allow more foreign doctors into Britain

‘As every year goes by, beyond five years, that number goes up slightly. We have to address it. How do we train people? How do we keep people? To take someone from the day they walk into medicine school until the day they can qualify as a GP costs somewhere in the region of half a million pounds.

‘So every person who we lose, the NHS has invested half a million pounds in their training. That isn’t what we want, that isn’t what patients want.’

Professor Cumming’s figures suggest that around 1,200 of the 3,000 GPs that qualify annually will have left the Health Service within five years.

This has helped lead to a shortage of family doctors at surgeries already overwhelmed by the demands of an ageing and growing population. The crisis had previously been blamed on more doctors retiring in their 50s, partly to avoid hefty taxes on their pensions.

Ministers have pledged to hire an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020 to ensure patients have better access to appointments, particularly at weekends.

But figures published last month showed the NHS had lost 1,300 GPs in two years. Numbers fell from 34,914 in March 2016 to 33,574 this March.

Professor Cumming likened the Health Service’s efforts to recruit and retain doctors to running a bath without a plug.

He said: ‘We cannot simply keep producing more and more and more people when we have people who for whatever reasons are dissatisfied with the employment offer that they are getting.

‘It is like a bath with water coming in from a tap at one end and out a plug at the other end. We need to make sure that we reduce the outflow of water.’

Mr Cumming said younger, ‘millennial’ family doctors tended to want to work much more flexible hours than older colleagues.

‘The millennial generation want more flexibility, they want to work different hours, they want to change career more regularly,’ he added. ‘The NHS as an employer has to address that.’

The average GP is now working four days a week compared to four and a half days a week in 2009. They typically earn £55,600 a year at the start of their careers, rising to around £100,000 as a partner.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said the demands of the job were part of the problem with staff retention.

‘GPs are entering a profession that is incredibly pressurised,’ she said. ‘Escalating workloads, workforce shortages and inadequate resources certainly do not make for a safe and supportive working environment, and unfortunately it isn’t just GPs that have been working in general practice for years who are burning out. We have more GPs in training than ever before, but it takes a long time to train a GP – at least ten years – and in the meantime, more GPs are leaving the profession than joining it.’

Figures on the high fallout rate were disclosed yesterday by Ian Cumming (pictured), head of the NHS’s staffing body

Figures on the high fallout rate were disclosed yesterday by Ian Cumming (pictured), head of the NHS’s staffing body

Dr Tom Micklewright, who chairs the British Medical Association’s GP trainees subcommittee, said: ‘Without urgent action and investment to address the ongoing pressures of increased workload, soaring demand and increased bureaucracy, we will see more and more experienced doctors leaving the profession or reducing their time spent with patients.’

At least 445 surgeries have shut or merged in the past five years, forcing 1.3million patients to find a new GP. Many of the closures came about because GPs had retired or quit and replacements were not found.

Approximately 3,000 would-be GPs start their three-year specialist training each year although there are no exact figures for the numbers who complete the course because some drop out. But if roughly 3,000 doctors complete their training, then 1,200 will have quit their posts within five years. They would have already done five years at medical school and two years in hospital.

John O’Connell, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: ‘Expensive training for vital doctors is surely something taxpayers are happy to stump up for, so they’ll be disappointed to see so many benefit from it before leaving the NHS quite so quickly.

‘Perhaps there should be a time limit on departure, to save money on training someone up before taking the skills elsewhere?’

Professor Cumming, who heads Health Education England, made his remarks in an address to the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester.