Is succession planning for GPs a very real concern in the UK?

Over recent years there has been a strong focus in the media and the national press on the recruitment crisis in the GP workforce. The primary focal point of many reports has been on the lack of new GPs entering the sector, as there has been, and still is, a shortfall of junior doctors wanting to become GPs. In 2013, only 20% of medical students across the UK chose to work in general practice once they had completed their foundation training, 30% below the national target of 50% by 2016.

Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, unveiled his ‘new deal’ for GPs on 19 June 2015, promising to pledge additional funds in an attempt to take urgent action in addressing the shortage of GPs.

The ‘new deal’, however, was met with scrutiny across the profession because of a lack of detail and clarification over implementation. Now, with too few younger medics wanting to enter the sector and so many doctors close to retirement age, or expecting to retire before the age of 60, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned that more than 500 practices are under threat of closure. Is succession becoming a real concern for GP practices?

Many GPs are set to leave in sector in the next 5 years

A recent study by the BBC, involving 1,005 GPs across the UK, revealed that 56% of doctors expect to retire or leave general practice before the age of 60, despite a £10m plan to attempt to encourage more GPs to delay or come back from retirement.

The results of the report are summarised below, with percentages rounded:

  • 25% of GPs definitely leaving the service before 60
  • 30% will probably leave
  • 32% probably not leaving
  • 6% definitely not leaving
  • 6% don’t know

The average GP retires at 59, so these results are not necessarily a surprise. What is worrying, however, is that in some parts of the UK 1 in 4 family doctors are over the age of 55 – and there are currently at least 10,000 family doctors aged 55 or over across the nation.

Is GP succession a top strategic priority?

With so many GP practices likely to be transitioning to the next generation over the next 2 to 5 years, succession planning for GPs is certainly a central management issue for many involved in the sector.

Scott Sanderson, Healthcare Partner at Hawsons, said: “As many GP practices are experiencing or are set to experience partner changes in the near future it is worrying that, in our experience, the process is often not optimally prepared for. Transition plans are rarely in place or are often overly ambitious when they are – failing to give a long enough lead time for successor partners. Research has highlighted what is a major concern for many practices across the UK, and with the number of GPs leaving the sector, to retire or pursue another profession, continuing to outnumber the new entrants coming in; this really is a central management issue for many practices.”

A trend to more salaried GPs – a changing tradition?

“The lack of successors is also a particularly important point when it comes to succession planning for GPs. Previously; it was often assumed that the next generation would want to become partners. However, the profession has changed significantly and an individual’s work-life-balance is becoming an increasingly important part of working in a practice. As such, we have seen a trend in the number of salaried GPs rising in recent years, and the number of GP partners continually falling. The number of salaried/other GPs shows an increase of 7,441 between 2003 and 2013. This is a noteworthy increase of 434.6%, rising from 1,712 to 9,153 in 10 years. This again further highlights the continuing tendency to work in in the profession as a salaried GP rather than as a partner, particularly since the introduction of the new GP contract in April 2004. This has huge implications on succession planning for GPs.”

“With so many family doctors across the UK approaching retirement age – including 90% of GPs in some practices – the next 2 to 5 years promises to be eventual for all involved in the sector. It is therefore vital that GP practices across the UK recognise the need for succession planning and determine over what time-frame the issue will arise.”


Considerations for new partners joining

There are a number of considerations that need to be addressed when a new partner joins the practice, including informing the Local Area Team, signing a partnership agreement and maybe, if the partner has two years’ experience, applying for seniority. In an article we wrote in the beginning of 2015, we looked at a number of a key action points that need to be considered for new GP partners joining.

More from our GP practice experts

You can find all of our latest GP practice sector news and newsletters here.

If you are looking for advice in a particular area, please get in touch with your usual Hawsons contact.

Alternatively, we offer all new clients a free initial meeting to have a discussion about their own personal circumstances – find out more or book your free initial meeting here. We have offices in Sheffield, Doncaster and Northampton.

Scott Sanderson

Scott Sanderson Partner

Scott Sanderson began his career with Hawsons and trained as a Chartered Accountant, becoming a partner in 2015, specialising in the healthcare sector and small businesses. For more details and advice, please contact Scott on [email protected] or 0114 266 7141.[/author_info]