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Bureaucratic burden 'causing GP retention crisis'

January 28, 2016

An excess of bureaucracy is driving professionals out of general practice and potentially jeopardising the delivery of safe and effective care.

This is according to a recent study from the University of Bath, which was published in the British Journal of General Practice and showed that a staff retention crisis is emerging among English GPs.

Conducted in association with the Universities of Bristol and Staffordshire, the study consisted of qualitative interviews and an online survey of 143 GPs who had left the profession early, identifying the main issues impacting their decisions.

The changing role of general practice amid extensive NHS reorganisation was cited as a key reason for this, with 79 per cent stressing their unhappiness with day-to-day life as a GP, while 55 per cent thought their non-clinical workload was too high.

Meanwhile, 84 per cent cited workplace pressures as an additional reason for leaving, with an additional 40 million patient consultations per year having been added to the workload of GPs since 2008.

The research also revealed that 45.5 per cent of all GPs leaving the profession in England between 2009 and 2014 were under 50, indicating that the NHS is losing talented younger professionals who would otherwise have been expected to continue providing care for many years to come.

These trends have a number of potentially negative consequences in terms of safety and quality of services, as they make it harder for patients to gain access from medical staff who are properly resourced and focused on providing individualised care.

Moreover, it has been demonstrated that short-staffing can be extremely stressful for medical workers and can reduce their ability to operate effectively, potentially increasing the likelihood of accidents, needlestick injuries or other incidents that can jeopardise the health of patients and staff alike.

Efforts have been made to encourage more medical graduates to enter GP training, but these have so far fallen short. The government has been aiming to increase GP training numbers to 3,250 a year, but the current figure is closer to 2,700.

Lead author Dr Natasha Doran, from the University of Bath's health department, said: "This is not the first time we've witnessed a crisis in GP recruitment and retention, but what characterises today's challenge is the number leaving general practice early in their careers.

"An increase in administrative tasks has resulted in less time with patients, compromising the ability to practise more patient-centred care. This has impacted on GPs’ sense of professional autonomy and values, resulting in reduced job satisfaction, overwork, stress and for many, a higher risk of burnout."

Dr Tim Ballard, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, responded to the study by suggesting it underlines the need for a swift change in government policy when it comes to general practice, in order to ensure safe care can still be provided.

He said: "We are drowning in red tape and this only serves to keep us away from delivering frontline patient care, which is why we become doctors in the first place."

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