Trend: England’s reliance on GPs aged over 55

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A blog by MCG Healthcare Recruitment Consultant, Aaron Frost:

I read a recent GPOnline article with interest, which revealed more than two-fifths of the full-time equivalent (FTE) GP workforce is aged over 55 in parts of England - four times the proportion in areas least reliant on older GPs.

From looking at the NHS Digital map, I recognised the areas highlighted as having 25% of the workforce that are over 55 years old, correlated with the areas known to be typically tougher to fill GP vacancies. In my experience as a recruitment consultant in the healthcare industry, I’ve found these regions more difficult to recruit GPs particularly for Salaried/Partnership and locum positions for doctor surgeries.

Source: NHS Digital data on GP workforce. Map shows the proportion of the FTE workforce aged over 55 in each CCG area

A BMA poll in 2015 - which received responses from more than 15,000 GPs - found that around 80% of those aged 55 or over planned to retire within five years.

Without wanting to generalise, based on this poll we may assume that the over-55 age bracket of GPs are at the stage of their career where they may wish to reduce their hours, work more flexibly and plan towards retirement. If a large proportion of a region’s GP workforce is winding down and planning to retire then this will of course impact the number of GP vacancies, as well as having a direct effect on a possible shortage of clinical support. We could also see strains on the GPs who are working to cover the shortfall, as if they feel overworked then they may look further afield to other regions to find a new role.

What can NHS England do to help with the GP shortages in these areas?

While we’re seeing an increase in terms of the numbers of GPs in training, the ageing workforce poses a major threat to the future sustainability of general practice because of the likelihood that many doctors will leave the profession soon.

I think creating attractive relocation packages to encourage GPs to work in these specific areas, such as Lincolnshire, Kent and Norfolk, could be one solution to help turn this situation around. I think as a nation we need to be more proactive in promoting General Practice and NHS roles, to highlight the great career opportunities that are on offer. I’d love to see the media getting onboard with this too to make this career path more attractive and to ensure a steady stream into this great career. It’s sad to see that it’s not just GPs leaving the profession, but we’re seeing other health clinicians leave such as nurses, mental health nurses and many more!

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