Patient care at risk as third of GP training posts unfilled in parts of England

GP leaders have warned of a 'serious threat' to service delivery and patient care as figures revealed up to 38% of GP training places unfilled in parts of the country.

Dr Richard Vautrey: unfilled posts threat to patient care
Dr Richard Vautrey: unfilled posts threat to patient care

The latest recruitment figures from Health Education England (HEE) show 451 unfilled places at the second round of recruitment for this year, with a UK fill rate of 85.8%.

HEE notes that the unfilled vacancies were ‘largely distributed to the north of England and Scotland’.

The vacancy fill rate in the East Midlands region was down to 61.87%, with 98 places unfilled.

In the Northern region the fill rate was 70.9%, and in Merseyside 72.44%. Yorkshire and Humber was at 76.59%.

In Scotland there were 32 unfilled places, with a fill rate of 89.37%. Wales was at 89.6%.

Last month the government extended by one year to 2016 its target for HEE to ensure that half of medical trainees completing foundation level training enter GP training programmes.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘These figures are deeply concerning and represent a serious threat to the delivery of effective GP services to patients. They show that we are experiencing serious shortfalls in the number of doctors choosing to train to become GPs, which will ultimately mean fewer GPs entering the workforce across large parts of the UK, most worryingly in already under doctored areas such as the North and the Midlands.’

‘The shortages present an immediate threat to patient care as there will be too few GPs to meet the needs of our patients with not enough new doctors are entering the workforce as growing numbers of older GPs leave their practices. If this situation becomes the norm it will result in an accelerating decline in the overall number of GPs, not least as a recent BMA survey showed that six out of 10 GPs were considering early retirement because of the pressures they are under.’

In a report on its statistics, HEE said a number of strategies to address the shortfall were being developed, including a pre-GP/generalist year featuring ‘12 months of posts commencing in August 2014; availability to borderline unsuccessful applicants in GP or other community-facing specialities; based on locum trust appointments, with an educational programme running alongside service delivery; clearly outwith postgraduate training and the gold guide, with no formal summative assessments’.

HEE is also considering a third round for entry in February 2015, which would take place in September, although it notes there is unlikely to be a large pool of applicants.

The North West Deanery, notes HEE, is proposing to use vacant hospital posts to facilitate training advanced nurse practitioners and other non-medical clinicians.

The document also suggests using unused funding to support salaries for GPs on the Induction and Refreshment (I&R) scheme.

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