Exclusive: LMC poll reveals soaring GP vacancy rate amid wave of retirements

Three quarters of practices in Leeds had a GP vacancy in 2015 and nearly half cannot offer enough GP sessions to meet patients' needs, an LMC poll has found.

Dr Richard Vautrey: workforce crisis affecting clinical care (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Richard Vautrey: workforce crisis affecting clinical care (Photo: JH Lancy)

Vacancy rates in the city's GP practices have soared over the past year, findings from the survey by Leeds LMC suggest. A similar survey for 2014 found that half of practices had had a vacancy in the previous 12 months. The latest findings show this has risen to 75%.

Just over a fifth - 22% - of GP vacancies were unfilled for more than a year, the Leeds survey showed.

The increase in unfilled GP posts has left many practices struggling to deliver the care their patients need. A total of 48% of respondents said their practice could not offer enough GP sessions to meet patients' needs - up from 32% last year.

A total of 15% of respondents said the shortage of GPs had threatened the viability of their practice in the past 12 months.

Map: ageing GP workforce

The survey also suggests that the rise in vacant posts is closely linked to the ageing GP workforce, with 42% of vacancies occurring because of retirements.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey, who is also Leeds LMC assistant medical secretary, said: 'Alarm bells should be ringing when cities like Leeds are struggling to retain and recruit enough GPs to meet the growing needs of patients.

'This deepening recruitment crisis is undermining the quality of care practices can offer to their patients as without enough GPs or practice nurses it can take longer to get an appointment than it should. In addition, when practices are under such pressure, GPs are not able to offer consultations that are long enough in order to deal properly with the complex needs that growing numbers of patients now live with.

'There is an urgent need to address the fundamental reasons that are putting off young doctors from becoming GPs and newly trained GPs from committing to a practice. Unsustainable workload pressures, falling practice funding and rising bureaucracy all need to be reversed to make a career in general practice attractive again and enable practices to expand their clinical staff to meet their patients’ needs.'

A total of 40 practices - 37% of the total number in Leeds - took part in the poll.

GP recruitment crisis

The survey found that 38% of respondents expected some of their GPs to leave the practice in the next 12 months, up from 27% in 2014.

The survey also found that a quarter of practices had had a practice manager vacancy in the past 12 months, and that a third had a vacancy for a nurse. Just over one in four practices reported that they were short of nurse clinical sessions.

Responses to the survey reveal crumbling morale in the profession. One GP said: 'I’ve been a GP for over 30 years and I’ve not seen the health service in such crisis, or morale amongst workforce so low.'

Another said: 'We have found it incredibly difficult to employ salaried GPs as so many decide to become locums due to the reduced admin work, higher pay and not having any of the pressure and stress associated with working in a permanent post in general practice.'

Others reported a lack of available practice nurses and unwillingness among GPs to take on partnerships, and warned that pressure on practices was so great that clinical and non-clinical staff were in some cases deciding 'the stress of the job isn't worth it'.

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