The ageing GP workforce trend may be slowing but more than a quarter of GPs are looking to retire in the next five years, according to 2017 GP workforce survey.

More than 2500 GPs took part in the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners’ fourth annual workforce survey of members (a 52% response rate) which indicates that the ‘wave’ of  GP retirements will continue to grow and peak over the next five years.

Dr Tim Malloy, the College’s president, said it was very concerning that 27 per cent of surveyed GPs indicated they were intending to retire within the next five years –almost double the 15 per cent in the 2014  survey and up again on the 24 per cent in 2016.

The survey indicates that the areas to be hit hardest by the retirement wave in the next five years include some regions where there are already lower GP to population ratios than other areas of the country like the MidCentral (36% intending to retire within five years), Hutt Valley (30.9%), West Coast (28.6%),  Waitemata (25%) and Taranaki (25%) district health board regions.*

The average age of a GP has dropped slightly from last year’s high of 50.9 years old to 50 years old  – due to a slight increase of GPs and trainee GPs aged under 35 – which suggested “we are possibly seeing early indications of the ageing trend slowing”, said the report.

The report also highlighted that with a highly experienced workforce due to retire there was a “limited window” for action on training to meet the “significant demand” from graduate doctors wanting to train as GPs, and funding was needed to take advantage of the opportunity.

Molloy said in a foreword to report that the latest survey findings showed that the College’s campaign for more training places for GPs had been timely and that it was encouraging that more medical students were choosing general practice as this would help alleviate pressure on the workforce. About 21 per cent of the survey respondents were trainee GPs.

He said it was also reassuring that most respondents (58%) reported a good work-life balance – particularly younger GPs and those aged over 70 – but just under a quarter reported feeling burnt out.  Respondents who were between 40-64, male, working full-time and were practice owners or partners were more likely to feel burnt out.

“We will continue to look for ways to help GPs stay healthy and enjoy their work,” said Molloy.

Other findings included:

  • Half of GP survey respondents in 2017 were aged 52 or older.
  • There is a ‘lost generation’ of GPs as general practice was not a popular career choice in the 1990s leading to low numbers of GPs in their 40s
  • 54 per cent of GP respondents were female and the proportion of female doctors rises to two-third (67%) for respondents aged under 40.
  • On average GP respondents worked 35.2 hours per week (average women respondents worked fewer than 36 hours a week and male respondents worked around 40 hours a week.)
  • Over the next five years, 27 percent of respondents intend to retire (up on 24% in 2016). Over the next 10 years, 47 percent intend to retire (the same proportion as in 2016 but up on 36% in 2014).
  • Two-thirds of those intending to retire in the next 10 years have also either already reduced their working hours or intend to do so within the next five years
  • The number of GPs identifying as Māori and Pacific remains disproportionately low (4% Māori compared to 15% of population and 2% Pacific compared to 7% of the population).
  • But the number of GPs under 40 identifying as Māori is eight per cent.
  • Nearly 40 per cent of respondents gained their medical degree overseas with the three most common countries being the United Kingdom (41%), South Africa (13%) and India (9%)
  • Overseas trained GP respondents were older, more likely to be male and work in a rural practice than NZ-trained GPs (half of rural GPs are trained overseas).
  • Fifty-eight percent said they have a good work–life balance. Almost a quarter feel burnt out.
  • Just under half of respondents were long-term employees or contractors and just over a third were practice owners or partners.
  • Sixty-four percent provided some level of acute after-hours general practice care. About 14 per cent providing after-hours services on a weekly basis and about a third of respondents were committed to providing after-hours services monthly or less frequently than monthly.
  • Nearly three-quarters of GPs (72%) work in a practice owned by GPs with eight per cent working for a fully or partly corporate-owned practice
  • Forty-one percent of GP respondents provide training to medical students or doctors.
  • Those who provide training are more likely to be male, and and in the 50–64 age cohort.
  • Just over half would recommend a career in general practice.
  • A comparison of the College 2017 survey results and Medical Council database indicated a close age and gender profile match. (NB a disproportionately high number of GP registrars taking part in the 2016 survey meant that the 2016 data was weighted to reflect this.)

*In each of these regions Medical Council of New Zealand 2016 data indicates there are less than 60 full-time equivalent GPs per 100,000 population compared to rates of 85.9 per 100,000 in Capital and Coast, 83.7 in Nelson-Marlborough and 80.2 in Auckland DHB regions. The region with the lowest number of GPs per 100,000 people is MidCentral with 52.4 followed by Waitemata with 57, West Coast with 57.1, Counties-Manukau with 57.8 and Taranaki with 59.7.

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