The state of general practice remains a key talking point in UK healthcare with continuing concerns about difficulty of recruitment, practices closing and a general feeling that general practice is in crisis. The central policy response to this situation is the General Practice Forward View published in April 2016 which was developed from the 2015 10 Point Plan produced jointly by NHS England, the Department of Health, Health Education England, BMA and the RCGP. As part of the development work for the Forward View NHS England and the Department of Health commissioned the Policy Research Unit in Commissioning and the Healthcare System (PRUComm) to undertake an evidence synthesis on GP recruitment, retention and re-employment – although given the paucity of literature on re-employment the review focused on recruitment and retention. The review was undertaken by Professor Stephen Peckham, Director of PRUComm, and Dr Catherine Marchand of the Centre for Health Services Studies at the University of Kent.
Overall, the published evidence in relation to GP recruitment and retention is limited and focused mainly on attracting GPs to underserved rural areas. However, the literature does provide some useful insights to factors that may support the development of specific strategies for the recruitment and retention of GPs. It was also evident that there are clear overlaps between strategies for supporting increased recruitment and retention.
Key factors that are relevant to the recruitment of GPs are primarily related to providing students with appropriate opportunities for contact with and positive exposure to general practice and general practitioners. Having good role models is particularly important and early exposure in pre-clinical training may be important in influencing future medical training choices. The training environment and location of training can also play important roles in improving recruitment to areas where there are shortages of trainees. Financial factors seem less important in influencing student’s choice for general practice – particularly in the current UK context.
More attention could be paid to the fit between skills and attributes with intellectual content and demands of the specialisation – in particular portraying general practice as a stimulating and interesting specialisation. It is also clear that factors such as lifestyle (flexibility, work-life balance, quality of life), social orientation and desire for a varied scope of practice are important factors contributing to decisions about choice of specialisation. Strategies that emphasise what are seen as the most important and rewarding aspects of the GPs job – facilities, autonomy of work, diversity of cases, education and employment opportunities for physician’s spouses in the practice location – all have a positive influence on recruitment.
Interestingly many of the factors relating to retention are similar to those related to recruitment. Positive factors as viewed by students and GPs about general practice as a profession – such as patient contact, variety, continuity of care – are intrinsic to what it means for them to be a GP. Recruitment factors highlighted positive role models, engagement with practices and socialisation into general practice while retention factors are similar in terms of supporting the ability of GPs to practice being a GP.
The evidence does suggest that tackling key aspects of job stress are important but supporting the key factors of how GPs view the essential nature of general practice in terms of patient contact may be more critical together with developing new opportunities for diversity of practice through sub-specialities and broader portfolio careers. As for the new ways of working, it is likely that the inclusion of nurses, pharmacists, and even social workers might help reduce the strain of the workload and burnout symptoms of GPs. GPs leave both for reasons of job dissatisfaction – possibly reflecting a frustration or a disappointment toward the changing roles in their practice – and also to retire before 60 years old, even if not discontent. Reasons may include lack of resilience to deal with stress but also a simple view that they have undertaken sufficient lifetime service. Generally the findings of this review are consistent with the wider literature on organisational behaviour and human resource management.
Based on our analysis of the evidence, the elements that are most likely to increase and influence recruitment in general practice include:
• exposure of medical students to successful GP role models
• early exposure to general practice
• supporting intrinsic motivational factors and career determinants
Despite continuing interest in using “golden handshakes” there is little evidence that financial targeted support will increase recruitment as recent experience in some areas of England have already demonstrated.
While we found no clear evidence of the effect of investment in retainer schemes and incentives to remain in practice on retention things that will possibly influence GPs to remain in practice include:
• supporting intrinsic factors of the job
• strategies to improve job satisfaction
• reducing job stressors such as work overload, lack of support and high demand
Download PRUComm report [pdf]>>
NHSE – IPSOS/MORI report>>