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Cover of Policies and strategies to retain and support the return of experienced GPs in direct patient care: the ReGROUP mixed-methods study

Policies and strategies to retain and support the return of experienced GPs in direct patient care: the ReGROUP mixed-methods study

Health Services and Delivery Research, No. 7.14

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Author Information
Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; .


This study identified policies and strategies likely to be relevant in addressing concerns regarding GP recruitment and retention



UK general practice faces a workforce crisis, with general practitioner (GP) shortages, organisational change, substantial pressures across the whole health-care system and an ageing population with increasingly complex health needs. GPs require lengthy training, so retaining the existing workforce is urgent and important.


(1) To identify the key policies and strategies that might (i) facilitate the retention of experienced GPs in direct patient care or (ii) support the return of GPs following a career break. (2) To consider the feasibility of potentially implementing those policies and strategies.


This was a comprehensive, mixed-methods study.


This study took place in primary care in England.


General practitioners registered in south-west England were surveyed. Interviews were with purposively selected GPs and primary care stakeholders. A RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method (RAM) panel comprised GP partners and GPs working in national stakeholder organisations. Stakeholder consultations included representatives from regional and national groups.

Main outcome measures:

Systematic review – factors affecting GPs’ decisions to quit and to take career breaks. Survey – proportion of GPs likely to quit, to take career breaks or to reduce hours spent in patient care within 5 years of being surveyed. Interviews – themes relating to GPs’ decision-making. RAM – a set of policies and strategies to support retention, assessed as ‘appropriate’ and ‘feasible’. Predictive risk modelling – predictive model to identify practices in south-west England at risk of workforce undersupply within 5 years. Stakeholder consultation – comments and key actions regarding implementing emergent policies and strategies from the research.


Past research identified four job-related ‘push’ factors associated with leaving general practice: (1) workload, (2) job dissatisfaction, (3) work-related stress and (4) work–life balance. The survey, returned by 2248 out of 3370 GPs (67%) in the south-west of England, identified a high likelihood of quitting (37%), taking a career break (36%) or reducing hours (57%) within 5 years. Interviews highlighted three drivers of leaving general practice: (1) professional identity and value of the GP role, (2) fear and risk associated with service delivery and (3) career choices. The RAM panel deemed 24 out of 54 retention policies and strategies to be ‘appropriate’, with most also considered ‘feasible’, including identification of and targeted support for practices ‘at risk’ of workforce undersupply and the provision of formal career options for GPs wishing to undertake portfolio roles. Practices at highest risk of workforce undersupply within 5 years are those that have larger patient list sizes, employ more nurses, serve more deprived and younger populations, or have poor patient experience ratings. Actions for national organisations with an interest in workforce planning were identified. These included collection of data on the current scope of GPs’ portfolio roles, and the need for formal career pathways for key primary care professionals, such as practice managers.


The survey, qualitative research and modelling were conducted in one UK region. The research took place within a rapidly changing policy environment, providing a challenge in informing emergent policy and practice.


This research identifies the basis for current concerns regarding UK GP workforce capacity, drawing on experiences in south-west England. Policies and strategies identified by expert stakeholders after considering these findings are likely to be of relevance in addressing GP retention in the UK. Collaborative, multidisciplinary research partnerships should investigate the effects of rolling out some of the policies and strategies described in this report.

Study registration:

This study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42016033876 and UKCRN ID number 20700.


The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.


About the Series

Health Services and Delivery Research
ISSN (Print): 2050-4349
ISSN (Electronic): 2050-4357

Article history

The research reported in this issue of the journal was funded by the HS&DR programme or one of its preceding programmes as project number 14/196/02. The contractual start date was in January 2016. The final report began editorial review in November 2017 and was accepted for publication in June 2018. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The HS&DR editors and production house have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors’ report and would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive comments on the final report document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising from material published in this report.

Declared competing interests of authors

Rob Anderson is a current member of the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research Researcher-led Prioritisation Committee. However, in this role he would not be involved in any discussions or decisions about grant proposals in which he has any personal, institutional or financial connections to any of the applicants. Alex Aylward declares personal fees outside the submitted work from the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, the Devon Local Medical Committee, the British Medical Association, the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (South West Peninsula) and the NHS England Medical Directorate (South).

Last reviewed: November 2017; Accepted: June 2018.

Copyright © Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2019. This work was produced by Campbell et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.
Bookshelf ID: NBK539934PMID: 30973692DOI: 10.3310/hsdr07140


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