Family health services in the Westcountry are facing a crisis as stressed out GPs worn down by long hours and high workloads threaten an exodus of the profession.
According to a worrying new report, GPs are so fed up that 60% are considering retiring early while over a third have set a date to do so.
The survey, by the British Medical Association( BMA) should be a wake up call to the Government, said Braunton GP Mark Sanford-Wood, the organisation’s representative in Devon.
“Increasing demand and unmanageable workloads have led to senior GPs across the region retiring early, significantly cutting the number of hours they work, or choosing to work abroad,” he said.
“As well as losing a number of experienced doctors, the recruitment of GPs is becoming a significant problem in the region.”
Beth McCarron-Nash, a Truro GP and the BMA’s representative for Cornwall, said practices across the region were already staring at a funding and recruitment crisis.
“This is a huge issue in Cornwall,” she said.
“We're facing rising demand from an ageing population with increasingly complex issues, but with no further funding or support from the government.
“Not only are we seeing a mass exodus of GPs who are able to retire early, but we're facing a looming recruitment crisis.
“Practices across the region are struggling to fill vacancies as a large number of the young doctors are choosing to either work part-time, due to being unable to cope with the increasing stress and unmanageable workload, or leave to work abroad.”
Dr Sanford-Wood said the fact was there was nowhere near the competition for training places as there used to be, largely because of the ongoing uncertainty around income and workload.
“While GPs across the UK are facing an unprecedented combination of rising patient demand and declining resources, the government is asking us to provide more services without the resources required to deliver them successfully.
“We want to provide the best possible care for our patients but in order for us to do so, the government must stop blaming doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals for the state of the NHS, acknowledge the hard work we do and support us appropriately.”
The average GP partner in the UK earned £104,100 and salaried GPs, who do not own a stake in the practice, earned £57,600 before tax in 2010/11 - both incomes a drop on the previous year.
According to the BMA survey, GPs are reaching the end of their tether.
Heavy workloads are said to be behind the decision of almost six out of ten GPs to consider retiring early with over a third actively planning for this decision
Meanwhile, three out of ten GPs to contemplate leaving general practice.
Almost all the respondents to the BMA’s poll of GPs across the UK reported that their workload was too heavy some of the time, with more than half saying their workload was unmanageable or unsustainable at all times.
Despite these pressures, eight out of ten GPs said they were changing the way they worked to meet demand for more emergency appoints, while half said they were responding to demand for more evening appointments.
The Department of Health said it continued to support family doctors and was committed to increasing the number of GP trainees from 40% of all newly qualified doctors leaving medical school to 50% by 2020.
A spokeswoman said that the most innovative practices would have access to a £50million challenge fund which would extend opening hours to 8am-8pm seven days a week.
She said: “We recognise the vital job that GPs do. This is why we have cut GPs' targets by more than a third to free up more time with patients, and are dramatically increasing trainees so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population.”
Last month, the annual NHS staff survey revealed plummeting morale as those in hospitals reported feeling overworked and under pressure in the face of long term cuts.