And it’s likely to get worse.
The Royal NZ College of General Practitioners, representing approximately 5,700 GPs throughout New Zealand recently released their latest report on their profession. Formally, it’s called the 2020 General Practice Workforce Survey.
The Survey, reporting valid responses from 3,117 GPs, contains some grim findings.
First, consider the frame of mind of the GPs you and I encounter as our first ‘port of call’ when illness strikes. The GPs were asked to rank themselves on a scale of 0 to 10 regarding how ‘burnt out’ they felt, with 10 representing ‘extremely burnt out. Fully 31% placed themselves in the highest 7-10 range.
I hope your GP is not one of those! In fact, Hawke’s Bay GPs didn’t rate themselves quite that badly. Only 27% put themselves in the 7-10 range.
The ‘burnt out’ factor is the one that might most immediately affect the quality of day-to-day care you receive as a patient.
But there’s another finding that will have huge impact on the primary care system we depend on.
Fully 31% of NZ GPs plan to retire within the next five years; another 18% within the next ten years … together, half of all GPs. That deserves a WOW! Again, the situation is only slightly as bad in Hawke’s Bay, where 27% say they will retire in five years.
As health consumers, there wouldn’t seem to be much you and I can do about this looming ‘macro’ workforce crisis, other than plead that the Government will do something about it. A third medical school? More aggressive overseas recruiting? The Survey reports that 63% of practicing GPs received their initial medical degree in NZ, and 37% overseas (not quite half of these from the UK).
The Survey reports a variety of other intriguing insights into the ‘innards’ of the GP world, some of which are reflected in the infographic below – 58% are women (who are younger, paid appreciably less, but also work fewer hours, 7 hours less per week than their male counterparts); the median age of all GPs is 52 years; and the median personal pre-tax income is $140,000.
The Survey also provides some ‘before and after’ information on practice change driven by the Covid pandemic. Most striking is the increased use of video consultations – only 11% were reported using (in past surveys) pre-Covid, jumping to 54% now.
I wonder how sympathetic the public will be to the work time commitment of our GPs. GPs are considered full employed if they work 36 hours per week – however, only 45% of respondents work to that level. The average for males is 38.5 hours and for females 31.5 hours. The Survey suggests that female GPs, who are younger, reserve more time for child-rearing responsibilities.
All respondents agree that a ‘less stressful working environment’ is the top incentive that would induce them to work more, but second for women is ‘children growing older’ (four times the number of men who said this … talk about gender role stereotypes!), while second for men is ‘higher remuneration’.
Bottom line: If you ever get to see your GP in person again, take him or her an apple … or a stiff whiskey!
You can download the entire Survey here.