A SURVEY by the GMC has revealed that 21 per cent of 45 to 54-year-old doctors and two-thirds of 55 to 64-year-old doctors intend to take early retirement by 2021, presaging a workforce crisis that could be compounded by Brexit.
These findings emerged from research commissioned by the GMC for its 2018 The state of medical education and practice in the UK report, which "paints a stark picture of unabated pressure on health services", says the regulator.
The survey of around 2,600 doctors indicates that many are considering career changes to escape the heavy workload in primary and secondary care. Around a third are considering reducing hours in the next three years, a fifth plan go part time and a further fifth plan to leave the UK to work abroad. These findings are further supported by research from the RCGP which found that 31 per cent of GPs said they are unlikely to be working in general practice in the next five years - many citing stress and plans for early retirement.
The GMC report has also revealed that some doctors are employing measures to cope with patient demand that may be piling more pressure on other parts of the system. These include making unnecessary referrals, ordering excessive blood tests or bypassing clinical checklists in order to get through workload.
The possibility of a "no deal" Brexit is adding to uncertainty, with worries about how EEA qualified doctors, who make up nine per cent of licensed doctors in the UK, will be able to join the UK medical register after the UK leaves Europe. The status of EEA qualified doctors already registered in the UK is guaranteed but the GMC has warned that it is crucial that the "tap is not turned off" after March 2019, enabling EEA doctors to come and work in the UK in future.
Professor Sir Terence Stephenson, Chair of the GMC, said: "Doctors are telling us clearly that the strain that the system is under is having a direct effect on them, and on their plans to continue working in that system.
"There are different challenges in each of the four countries of the UK but the NHS is at a critical juncture; without a long-term UK-wide plan to ensure it has a workforce with the right skills in the right places and without the right support, doctors will come under even greater strain."
The GMC is proposing that long-term government plans for the NHS include developing a national database across the UK to determine which doctors have what skills and in which locations. It also wants legislative change to give more flexibility in processes for joining the GP and specialist registers, providing a wider range of options to demonstrate the skills and experience needed to do so.
The GMC also proposes increasing capacity at their testing centre to accommodate the rise in international doctors wishing to sit the two-part skills and language test needed to work in the UK.
Professor Stephenson added: "Now is the time to act. That means being prepared to change long-established paradigms of what it means to educate and train doctors and what it means to have a sustained career in the profession."