GPs leaving clinical practice

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  13 Apr 2017

The career intentions of 2177 GPs in the south-west of England were examined in a study by researchers from the University of Exeter, published in BMJ Open.[1]

Patient care

Of the GPs who responded, 20% (473) said that there was a high likelihood that they would quit direct patient care within the next two years, and 38% (863) said that they would quit direct patient care within the next five years. Over half (57%, 1252) said that they were likely to reduce their hours.

Career breaks

Over a third (36%, 770) said that they intended to take a career break within the next five years. Older GPs were more likely to express an intention to leave direct patient care and to reduce their hours, the researchers found. Female GPs, those aged under 40, and locums were the most likely to say that they intended to take a career break

Workforce impact

Considered together, 70% (1535) said that they were likely or very likely to pursue a career intention that could have an adverse impact on the workforce available in south-west England in the next five years.


Over half (54%, 1195) said that they had low or very low morale, while 14% (305) said that they had high or very high morale. The researchers found that those with very low morale were most likely to say that they intended to leave direct patient care, reduce their hours in patient care, or take a career break.


Female GPs were substantially less likely to say that they intended to reduce the hours they spent in direct patient care than male GPs. However, female GPs under 40 were the group most likely to say that they intended to take a career break.


Commenting on the findings Bruce Hughes, chair of Devon Local Medical Committee, said that they reaffirmed the challenges that GPs and practices in the area faced every day.
“Like elsewhere in the country, local GPs are grappling with heavy workloads which have already reached a tipping point,” Hughes said. “There simply aren’t enough GPs to deal with demand because of a lack of entrants into the profession; retirements; and GPs choosing to leave because of burnout or disillusionment, or reducing their hours or moving abroad for a better work-life balance.”
Hughes said that the situation was likely to get worse as GPs became overwhelmed by increased demand caused by community hospital bed closures earmarked in sustainability and transformation plans. “These plans currently lack robust cover arrangements and as such are not credible. Our problems may be exacerbated further by the recent national announcement to commit more GPs to work in emergency departments,” he said.


  1. Fletcher E, Abel GA, Anderson E, et al. Quitting patient care and career break intentions among general practitioners in South West England: findings of a census survey of general practitioners. 2017. [Link] .

Abi Rimmer BMJ Careers

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: