The Royal College of General Practitioners has warned that up to 600 surgeries face closure due to a “deepening crisis” in GP recruitment, suggesting practice nurse jobs may also be at risk.
The college said many practices were unable to replace GPs who were “leaving in their droves” for early retirement, to work abroad or to pursue alternative careers.
“The public haven’t been aware that GPs, nurses and practice teams have been absorbing pressure by trying to do more and more with less and less”
More than 90% of GPs working in 543 practices in England are now aged over 60, with the average age of GP retirement being 59, according to new figures revealed by the RCGP at its annual primary care conference in Liverpool.
It estimates that more than 1,000 GPs will leave their jobs every year by 2022.
The college said the number of new recruits entering the profession was not enough to fill the gap in the workforce, and predicted up to 600 practices in the UK could be forced to close as a result.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said primary care was failing to both attract enough doctors and nurses and to retain the current workforce.
She suggested much of the pressure on the primary care workforce had so far been masked from the public by problems elsewhere in the NHS.
“They see the flooding downstream in accident and emergency departments and in hospital pressures, but they haven’t been aware that GPs, nurses and practice teams have been absorbing that pressure by trying to do more and more with less and less,” she said.
Dr Baker warned that unless urgent action was taken to restore the workforce, there could be “terrible consequences for our patients in general practice and indeed for the whole of the NHS”.
She called for a rescue packages for general practices, which would make it easier for GPs to return to work after a career break and incentives to encourage more doctors into deprived areas, which have traditionally found it hard to attract staff.
Marina Lupari, the RCN’s Professional Lead for Primary and Community Care, described the RCGP’s findings as “very worrying”.
She said: “Just as there are pressures on the nursing workforce, there are also clearly big problems with GP recruitment and retention.”
“It’s crucial to remember that general practice is a team involving practice nurses and healthcare assistants, as well as doctors,” she said. “Nursing staff work across all levels in primary care and currently provide 30% of the work completed within general practice.”