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Bristol academic warns of threat to the future of general practice

Professor Chris Salisbury

12 April 2017

Chris Salisbury, Professor of Primary Care at the University of Bristol, has warned that high numbers of GPs leaving the profession will increase the pressure on doctors who are left, making them more likely to leave as well.

Professor Salisbury is co-author of a study published today in BMJ Open which found that two in five GPs in the South West plan to quit within five years.

The study – a large-scale survey of GPs in the region – also found that seven out of 10 GPs intend to change their working patterns in a way that would mean less contact with patients. This included leaving patient care, taking a career break, or reducing their hours.

Professor Salisbury said: “This survey highlights the level of the threat to the future of general practice. As more and more GPs retire or leave the profession it increases the pressure on those doctors who are left, making them more likely to leave as well.

“General practice acts like a sieve for the NHS, helping most people to manage their problems locally with only a few needing to go to hospital. If patients cannot get to see a GP, this will have a big knock-on effect on hospitals. The solution is not just for the NHS to try to recruit more GPs, but to really understand why GPs are leaving and to support them better in doing their jobs well. This survey will help the NHS to understand the problem, which is the first step in finding a solution.”

Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the research, has called for a move away from “sticking plaster solutions” towards robust, joined-up action to avert the crisis nationwide.

He 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 study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

Further information

See the University of Exeter Medical School press release.

The paper ‘Quitting patient care and career break intentions among general practitioners in South West England: findings of a census survey of general practitioners ’ is published in BMJ Open on April 12. Authors are Emily Fletcher, Gary A Abel, Rob Anderson, Suzanne H Richards, Chris Salisbury, Sarah Gerard Dean, Anna Sansom, Fiona C Warren, and John L Campbell.

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