There are “worrying signs” that a growing number of doctors are planning to leave the profession due to burnout and dissatisfaction, the General Medical Council (GMC) has warned.
It also said recruiting medics from overseas is important as the benefits of measures unveiled by the Government to create more medical schools places “will only start to be seen a decade from now”.
The regulator’s annual report on the medical workforce revealed the number of licensed doctors increased in 2022, with 23,838 joining and 11,319 leaving.
It said the amount of those joining has been double the number leaving every year since 2019 “despite challenging conditions”.
However, the report said there are “still high vacancy rates and workforce pressure” as the number of doctors leaving the profession returned to pre-pandemic levels of 4% last year.
The GMC warned there are “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 said there may be “a limited window of opportunity to address current issues” before it manifests into more medics leaving the workforce.
Elsewhere, the report found 63% of new starters in 2022 trained overseas.
It said growth was “strongly driven” by international graduates, which made up 52% of new joiners.
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said diversity in the workforce “is a positive thing”.
“Doctors trained outside of the UK bring skills and experience that are vital to our health services,” he added.
“They need to be welcomed, valued and supported, and their expertise must be properly recognised.
“Compassionate and inclusive working environments not only support recruitment and retention of this vital and talented part of the medical workforce, but they also enable better patient care.
“With the pressures our health services face, all doctors need to be equipped and enabled to perform at their best. Fewer doctors from any background will stay on if their experience is not a positive one.”
In June, the Government published the NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan which will aim to recruit more than 300,000 extra nurses, doctors and other health workers over the coming 15 years.
This includes plans to double medical school places to 15,000 by 2031.
However, the GMC said even if the blueprint is “smoothly implemented” the benefits “will only start to be seen a decade from now”.
It added that even if planned increases in England are replicated in other UK countries, the healthcare system would still need large numbers of doctors joining from abroad.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, welcomed the increasing diversity, but said leaders are aware more could be done to tackle inequalities and discrimination, which is a priority for trusts.
He added: “With more than 125,000 unfilled jobs across the NHS in England today, everything that we can do to retain and develop valued doctors and other staff is crucial to the long-term health and wellbeing of the NHS, its workforce and patients.”
The GMC also found an increasing number of doctors are seeking more flexibility in their careers.
More medics work part-time, it said, while more students and doctors in training are also seeking flexibility.
Sir Julian said: “Adapting to a desire for greater flexibility for doctors in their training and career paths is a key part of efforts by the NHS to retain its skilled and talented people and to improve the wellbeing of the workforce – which leads to better care and outcomes for patients.
“Trusts are committed to helping medical staff and others’ careers to flourish amid the pressures, particularly in urgent and emergency care, faced by the NHS workforce today.”
Emma Runswick, deputy chair of British Medical Association (BMA) council, said “far more needs to be done to value and develop doctors and stop their exodus from UK practice”.
She said continuous recruitment of international medical graduates was not a sustainable solution to the UK workforce crisis.
“More doctors than ever continue to leave UK practice, and a growing number are quitting because of dissatisfaction and the high risk of burnout. Others are taking longer periods away from training after working just two years post-graduation, with many citing their health and wellbeing as a common reason.
“Employers should look to offering these doctors an alternative career pathway, drawing on their skills with appropriate Specialty or Specialist contracts, but employers are often resistant to this approach.
“The Government must take the findings of this report seriously and implement a thorough workforce retention plan before our current staffing crisis reaches breaking point.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Government is backing the long-term workforce plan with over £2.4 billion 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 £6.1 billion 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.”