Exclusive: Recruitment crisis leaves practices facing long-term GP vacancies

A third of practices have at least one GP vacancy, and one in six of these have been unable to fill a post for more than a year, a GP survey has found.

The struggle to fill posts has been compounded by a wave of early retirements, the poll of nearly 700 GPs and practice managers revealed.

One in three respondents reported at least one GP at their practice taking early retirement in the past year as increasing pressures on general practice squeeze the workforce.

A similar proportion of respondents expected a GP at their practice to take early retirement in the coming year. One senior GP leader said the findings were ‘very worrying evidence’ of the growing crisis and the impact of workload pressures.

Respondents to the poll warned the situation was an ‘absolute crisis for practices’. The survey came as both remaining GP partners at one practice in Bristol announced they would quit after being unable to recruit new GPs to replace those who had left or retired.

In a letter to patients, the partners said they had been forced to work extraordinarily long days, adding: ‘This situation is not sustainable.’

The GP survey found:

  • 16% of respondents have an unfilled GP partner vacancy at their practice.
  • 21.5% have a salaried GP vacancy.
  • 11.3% have an unfilled locum vacancy.
  • 15.1% have other staff vacancies.

About one in six practices with one or more unfilled GP vacancies have been unable to fill a GP post for more than a year, while more than a quarter have been unable to fill a GP post for six months to one year.

One practice said it had been un­able to replace a retired senior partner and had ‘given up on a replacement’, relying instead on locums and nurse practitioners.

Several respondents said they could not afford to take on more GPs, despite rising workload. ‘We are now 2,200 patients per partner. We cannot produce a vacancy on falling income,’ said one.

A leaked report from Health Education England last month revealed almost 40% of GP training posts
were vacant in some areas.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently told MPs there were ‘1,000 more GPs during this parliament’. But practices say there are not enough new GPs to replace those retiring early because of workload pressures, said GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey. ‘It not only puts unfair pressure on those remaining, but impacts on patients, too,’ he said.

Northumberland LMC medical secretary Dr Jane Lothian said her region was ‘at the bottom of the pecking order’ for recruiting trainees.

‘You can’t overnight produce more people wanting to go into general practice,’ she said. ‘It looks like the problem is going to get worse.’

Dr Lothian said practices should stop waiting for a GP to come along and instead look at skill mix and new models of service delivery.

Last month the RCGP revealed a deal with NHS England for a new returners scheme. A spokeswoman for Health Education England said GP training posts had increased in 2014.

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