More than half of UK doctors are considering quitting the NHS or cutting their hours in the hope of an easier life, research shows.
The polling of 2,600 doctors by the General Medical Council (GMC) found 56 per cent were examining other career options.
One quarter had already cut their hours or gone part-time, with such trends almost as common among young doctors as among those approaching retirement, the report found.
The watchdog said there was now a high risk of doctors leaving clinical practice “in unprecedented numbers”.
The polling found 21 per cent of medics were considering cutting their hours or going part-time, with another 15 per cent thinking about taking retirement, and 12 per cent considering practising abroad. A further 7 per cent were looking into moving into the private sector, or locum work, with 1 per cent considering a career break.
Just one per cent of those polled intended to increase their hours.
It follows research among trainee GPs which found just one in 20 intends to do the job full-time, with the average family doctor now working three and a half days a week.
Doctors told the watchdog that pressures of time meant they were increasingly taking short cuts in their jobs.
One in three reported seeing clinical protocals bypassed at least every week owing to pressures of work. Doctors admitted to referring patients on to elsewhere in the NHS just because they did not have time to deal with their problems.
The watchdog said safety risks would grow if action was not taken to persuade medics to stay.
"The UK is running out of time to prevent a significant decline in workforce numbers, which risks patient safety," the report says.
"Doctors are reaching the limit of what can be done. Our new evidence reveals the effect of these pressures and the steps doctors are taking to cope.
"We are concerned that some of these strategies are risky or unsustainable.
"The medical profession is at the brink of a breaking point in trying to maintain standards and deliver good patient care."
The regulator said shortages of staff, rising numbers of patients and a heavy burden of administrative duties and targets were fuelling the pressures on doctors.
Professor Sir Terence Stephenson, chairman of the GMC, said: "Doctors are telling us clearly that the strain that the system is under is having a direct effect on them, and on their plans to continue working in that system.”
"We've heard from doctors who are referring patients on to other parts of the system because they don't have the time to deal with their issues, understandably moving the pressure on to other parts of the service.”
The watchdog called for better workforce planning, and changes to ensure that international doctors wanting to work in the UK could undergo testing more quickly.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "Doctors are the backbone of the NHS and there are currently record numbers providing patients with excellent, safe care.
"We are committed to improving doctors' work-life balance by expanding flexible working schemes and e-rostering and we are ensuring the NHS has the doctors it needs now and in the future through a 25% increase in training places and opening five new medical schools.
"The Government has secured the rights of all EU citizens in the UK and our dedicated EU doctors are among the first to be able to secure their settled status - underlining our commitment to them."
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