GP vacancies fall due to skills mix

Vacancies in general practice in England and Wales tumbled last year, according to DoH figures.

The rate of vacancies unfilled for at least three months more than halved in England, which left an estimated 11 practices in 1,000 with a job available for a GP, which was a drop from 23 in 2005.

In Wales, the rate fell more modestly, with 18 practices per 1,000 left with a vacancy at the end of March 2006.

The figures, published in the 'GP Practice Vacancies Survey 2006', were welcome news for the DoH, which has pledged to improve access and build up capacity in poorly served areas.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chairman, said: 'This tells us that vacancies are disappearing, and of course, we are pleased.'

But he said the figures were hard to interpret because 'you can't tell what is a vacancy and what is a replacement'.

'If principals are replaced by non-principals and doctors by nurses, there is no vacancy, but you are not replacing like with like.'

City practices showed the steepest improvement, with a fourfold drop in vacancy rates, and the sharpest drops were seen in West Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland and Greater Manchester.

But parts of London were black spots. The GP vacancy rate in north-west London more than doubled, with 46 practices in 1,000 having unfilled posts.

Practice nurse vacancies rose in two London areas and in Essex. Practice staff vacancies rose in three areas in London, which left 3.9 vacancies per 100,000 patients in north-west London, more than 50 per cent higher than in any other part of the country.

Dr Buckman blamed the London situation on property prices.

Vacancies for practice nurses fell modestly to reach six per 100,000 patients in England, and two per 100,000 in Wales.

But vacancies for practice nurses rose in North Wales from six to seven per 100,000 patients. Vacancies for practice staff also increased in North Wales.

Practice staff vacancies in England rose slightly to reach one per 100,000 patients. The figure for Wales dropped from 0.9 to 0.6.

The survey was based on returns from 1,057 (13 per cent) English practices and 114 (23 per cent) practices in Wales.

Meanwhile, 4,000 UK practices were being encouraged to take part in a workload survey to inform contract negotiations carried out by the government's Information Centre for Health and Social Care on behalf of the BMA, NHS Employers and the DoH.

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