Why Is There a Shortage of Primary Care Physicians?

The shortage of primary care physicians is a growing concern in the UK, with many GP surgeries scraping by on reduced staff levels. This article covers some of the key reasons for the shortage and explains how they have contributed to the decline of primary care physicians in the last few years.

The Impact of COVID

COVID admissions have placed a lot of pressure of GPs, clinicians, and physicians since 2020 and they are still feeling the effects. Primary care physicians and doctors were spread thin even before the pandemic hit the UK, which has led to doctors feeling burnt out and working conditions becoming incredibly stressful.

Stressful Working Conditions

The stressful working conditions is a contributing factor to the shortage of primary care physicians. With over half of doctors working significantly longer than their contracted hours, and around 36% of GPs suffering from work-related stress, anxiety, depression or burnout, it’s no wonder the NHS is seeing a lot of doctors quit. The demand for primary care physicians, GPs, doctors and clinicians is rising dramatically, meaning there are more vacant positions than there are available candidates.

Increasing Patient Numbers

Since 2015, the number of patients per GP practice has increased by 22%, but the GP workforce has not expanded - despite the large rise in patient needs. This shows that there has been a gradual decrease in GPs and primary care physicians, as the number of patients increases while the workforce remains stagnant.

Lack of Staff

According to the trajectory of the current medical workforce, the NHS will only have the number of practising doctors per 1,000 people required to match the OECD’s EU requirements by the year 2046, meaning that England is currently 25 years away from meeting this goal. This means that on average, every FTE doctor that works for the NHS is currently doing 1.3 different roles. Evidence shows that when doctors are overworked under conditions of chronic stress and fatigue, mistakes are more likely to happen, and moral distress may occur. These risks have a negative impact on those considering a career as a doctor. The lack of staff available causes a vicious cycle: Staff are overworked; staff leave; remaining staff become more overworked; more staff leave.

These are some of the main reasons England is currently facing a shortage of primary care physicians. While it seems that these problems will continue to persist, change is potentially on its way. The situation may seem dire now, but it will take time for long-term change to reflect in future research.

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