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BACKGROUND: The supply of general practitioners (GPs) in the National Health Service (NHS) is dynamic and there are fears that there will be an inadequate number of doctors to meet the needs of the NHS. There are particular concerns about changes in the career trajectory of young GPs and what they mean for overall supply. AIM: To identify predictors of retention among young, new entrant GPs entering the NHS between 1 October 1991 and 1 October 1992. METHOD: Two-year retention rates of young (35 years of age or less) new entrant GPs have been modelled using a multilevel logit model. Retention is defined as young, new entrant GPs remaining in their initial health authority for two years or more. RESULTS: Two hundred and fifty-two (13.0%) members of the study group left general practice within two years of entry (i.e. were not retained). Sex (females had lower retention [95% CI = 0.43-0.75]), practice size (young GPs in larger practices had higher retention [95% CI = 1.10-1.29]), and belonging to a practice in one of 16 Greater London Health Authorities (which had lower retention [95% CI = 0.39-0.82]) were identified as major predictors of retention. Deprivation, measured at the individual GP patient list level, had a very slight association with retention (P = 0.097; 95% CI = 1.00-1.02). Deprivation measured at the health authority level (95% CI = 0.99-1.01) was not found to be a statistically significant predictor of retention (P = 0.83). CONCLUSION: None of the statistically significant predictors of retention suggest any policy panacea to end this phenomenon. The challenge for policy is to learn to deal with the dynamic nature of the GP workforce with a non-crisis mentality.