A collaboration between Health Education England (Wessex) and the University of Southampton
The exit interview data we always wanted for doctors leaving the NHS

The exit interview data we always wanted for doctors leaving the NHS

The GMC, HEE, DOH (Northern Ireland), NHS Education for Scotland and Health Education and Improvement Wales have published the results of a survey sent to 90,601 doctors who practised in the UK between 3 months and 15 years ago, but are no longer, for reasons other than being more than 68 years old. An impressive 13,158 responses, collected between January and March 2020, were used to write their report “Completing the picture”. Only 26.8% of respondents left due to early retirement; 66.2% are still working, just not for the NHS. In fact 56.1% are now practising medicine abroad.

Respondents selected that they left due to dissatisfaction with working in the NHS (35.7%),  to return to a country of previous residence (32%) and due to feeling Burnt-out (27.2%). Doctors who worked full time made up 61% of those who left, compared to 24% who worked less than full time and 15% who worked as a locum. This may represent flexible working being protective, or the proportions that work this way on the register (data for this was not available).

The exodus of doctors is across all grades and specialisms:

  • Training 21%
  • Specialists 32% (17% of those were from Surgery, 13% from Anaesthetics and Intensive Medicine and 13% from Medicine)
  • GPs 25%

The number of doctors leaving in training is reflected by the fact that 52% of those who left were <45 years old. Proportionally more males responded than are on the register (57.7% v 52.1%), proportionally more white doctors than are on the register responded (72.3% v 57.8%) and proportionally more doctors with disability responded than are on the register (10.1% v 5.9%). This may reflect the groups more likely to leave, or survey response bias.

The countries of primary medical qualifications for responders were classed as:

  • UK for 52.4%,
  • EEA for 23.9%
  • International for 23.6%

The proportion of those with an EEA primary medical qualification leaving was significantly higher than the proportion on the register (8.7%), perhaps reflecting those that left during the Brexit campaign and preparations. Based on the responses to the question about return and after weighting the data to the total population of doctors who left between 3 months and 15 years ago (n=91,313), they calculated 23.5% would be likely to return. Of those, only 10% are currently in the UK.

If this big data on doctors leaving the NHS before retirement age is not a wake up call to make working in the NHS more attractive to all doctors and to take their wellbeing seriously, I don’t know what is.

Access the full report here: Completing the Picture Survey

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