Almost nine out ten of practices struggle to find locums, BMA survey reveals

GP leaders have called for government action after a BMA survey found that 86% of practices struggle to find locum cover.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul: 'There are not enough locums to cover the widening gaps in the GP workforce'
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: 'There are not enough locums to cover the widening gaps in the GP workforce'

The survey of more than 2,800 practices in England found that 46% said they ‘frequently’ struggle to find locums, with another 40% reporting occasional difficulties.

The GPC said the findings were further evidence of the pressure on GP services, leaving practices struggling to provide effective patient care. Chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul called on the government to address the crisis and deliver its delayed package of support for the service. 

Key survey findings:

  • 46% of practices said they have trouble finding locum cover 'frequently'
  • 40% 'occasionally' have issues
  • Only one in ten GP practices in England said they did not require locum cover at all.
  • The south and south west are the worst affected areas, with around six out of ten practices (61 per cent and 57 per cent respectively) saying they frequently have problems finding locum cover.
  • The south west (5 per cent) and the West Midlands (6 per cent) had the lowest numbers of practices which never needed locum cover.

National Association of Sessional GPs CEO Dr Richard Fieldhouse said demand for locums had increased over the past two years.Pallant Medical Chambers, where Dr Fieldhouse is a director, regularly turns away three times as much work as it is able to book, rising to four or five times in the summer.

‘We are turning away work hand over fist, constantly having to let practices down,' he said.

Dr Nagpaul said locums did an ‘outstanding job’ of stepping in to provide care at short notice.

‘But increasingly GP practices are facing longer term vacancies because of the recruitment crisis gripping general practice. If a GP locum cannot be found in these situations many practices struggle to offer enough appointments to meet their patients’ needs.'

Dr Nagpaul said that in the current climate of unfilled trainee places, rising demand and unfunded workload it was clear that 'there are no longer enough GP locums to cover the widening gaps in the GP workforce'.

'This is undoubtedly adding to the incredible pressure on GP services which has left it in a state of emergency and struggling to provide even basic care to patients,' he added.

‘The government needs to begin addressing this crisis and deliver its promised support package for general practice. We need a long term, well financed plan to prevent GP services from collapsing.’

But Dr Fieldhouse called on the profession’s leadership to help promote and support the development of locum chambers as a model to keep GPs in the profession. ‘I’m continually surprised at the number of GPs who've never heard of chambers’, he said. 

A recent survey of 73 locum GPs found 92% would have quit the profession if they hadn’t been able to work in a chambers, while a fifth had delayed retirement because they were able to work in chambers, said Dr Fieldhouse. 

GP leaders, he added, should view sessional GPs as part of the solution to the workforce crisis, with a ‘symbiotic relationship between practices and locum chambers’.

Photo: JH Lancy

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