About the ReGROUP study

The study is multi-centre in collaboration with the University of Bristol and we are also working with partners within the University of Exeter Business School and the Centre for Workforce Intelligence

Study summary

There are around 1.3 million consultations with GPs in the UK every working day. However, unless urgent action is taken, the UK will face with a serious shortage of GPs within the next few years. There are several reasons for this. Fewer medical students are opting for a career in general practice. In addition, the GP workforce is ageing, especially in inner city areas where it is much harder to recruit and retain doctors. In addition, increasing numbers of experienced doctors over the age of 50 are considering retiring, or quitting patient care within the next five years. There are also now more women than men opting to train as GPs. A high proportion of these doctors will take a career break, with a significant proportion not returning to the workforce or returning part time. A recent NHS report has recognised this imminent crisis and recommended urgent action to understand the reasons for the loss of both experienced GPs and those taking a career break. In addition, the general population is ageing with increasingly complex health needs placing additional demands on GP time. Shortage of GPs will thus put patients at risk and exacerbate inequalities in care. As it takes at least 10 years to train a GP, recruiting more GPs is not an immediate solution, and understanding how we can retain the existing workforce is essential. This research aims to gain insight into the problems of GPs quitting direct patient care through retirement or taking a career break, and will help provide strategies and policies for the NHS in seeking to maintain the GP workforce.

This research consists of six projects. First, we will conduct a systematic review of existing literature to find out what evidence already exists about GPs decisions to quit direct patient care. Second, we will conduct a survey of GPs in South West England to identify those considering early retirement or taking a career break and to help identify GPs for our qualitative research. Third, we will carry out interviews with experienced GPs aged 50-60 years old who are intending to, or who have already quit direct patient care, and with GPs who have taken, or who are thinking about taking, a career break.

These will allow us to develop our understanding about why GPs decide to leave face to face patient care. The results from the literature review and interviews will allow us to develop some policies and strategies that might be expected to encourage GPs to stay in direct patient care. Fourth, once we have identified these policies and strategies, we will ask a panel of experts, including commissioners, GPs, practice managers, and PPI representatives to review, and prioritise the policies. Fifth, alongside this research programme we will develop computer models that will help us identify which general practices may be “at risk” in terms of maintaining their GP workforce over the next five years. Thus, the policies and strategies we have developed through our research could potentially be targeted at the practices most likely to benefit from them. Finally, we will consult with key stakeholders responsible for planning the GP workforce to find out whether they think the policies and strategies are acceptable to practices and healthcare planners, and to comment on whether they would be taken up within a short enough time to be helpful. PPI representatives will play a critical role in reflecting on whether patients are likely to find the policies and strategies acceptable.