Doctors plan to leave NHS in growing numbers due to burnout, GMC warns

A growing number of doctors plan to leave the profession due to burnout and dissatisfaction, the General Medical Council has said, highlighting fears that the government’s long-term strategy for the NHS may have come too late.

The GMC’s annual report on the medical workforce said the benefits of measures announced by the government in the NHS long-term workforce plan in June, such as the ambition to create more medical school places, “will only start to be seen a decade from now”.

The report found that the number of licensed doctors increased in 2022, with 23,838 joining and 11,319 leaving. However, it said there were “still high vacancy rates and workforce pressure”, and that the rate of doctors leaving the profession was returning to pre-pandemic levels, at 4% last year.

The GMC warned there were “worrying signs” that a growing number “plan to leave the profession as a result of high levels of dissatisfaction and high risk of burnout”. It added that there may be “a limited window of opportunity to address current issues” before more medics leave.

The report said growth in the profession was “strongly driven” by international graduates, which made up 52% of new joiners, and found that 63% of new starters in 2022 had trained overseas.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said diversity in the workforce “is a positive thing”, adding that doctors trained overseas brought a breadth of experience that could help provide better care.

However, Emma Runswick, deputy chair of council at the British Medical Association (BMA), said the continuous recruitment of international medics was not a sustainable solution to the UK crisis.

The government’s workforce plan for the NHS sets out plans to recruit more than 300,000 nurses, doctors and other health workers over the next 15 years; to double the number of medical school places to 15,000 by 2031; and to increase the number of medical school places by a third, to 10,000 a year by 2028 to 2029.

The plan suggests that the first new medical school places will be available from September 2025, but it normally takes at least five years to complete a medical degree, so this cohort would not become qualified until 2030 at the earliest, the GMC said.

The GMC also said more medics, students and trainee doctors were seeking more flexibility in their careers, and an increasing number of doctors were working part-time.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government is backing the long-term workforce plan with over £2.4bn over the next five years to fund additional education and training places, on top of existing increases to education and training investment, reaching a record £6.1bn over the next two years.

“There continues to be record numbers of total NHS hospital and community health service staff in England, including record numbers of doctors and nurses.

“The NHS provides ongoing physical and mental health support for staff. This includes targeted psychological support and treatment, and a national support service for those with more complex mental health needs.”