Seven-day GP service 'unrealistic' with one in 10 posts unfilled, warns RCGP

More than one in 10 GP roles in England are vacant, the RCGP has revealed, making government plans for seven-day general practice 'unrealistic'.

Dr Maureen Baker: DH must drop seven-day GP service obsession (Photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Maureen Baker: DH must drop seven-day GP service obsession (Photo: Pete Hill)

A survey of 540 GP practices by the college found that 10.2% of full-time equivalent positions were vacant.

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker called on ministers to drop their ‘obsession’ with seven-day services and do more to implement the plan agreed between the NHS, the DH, the college and the GPC to boost the workforce.

The government has committed to recruiting 5,000 extra GPs, a figure health secretary Jeremy Hunt downgraded from a minimum to a maximum after the election in May. Ministers have also promised seven-day and evening GP access for every patient in England.

GP recruitment

The RCGP has calculated that around 3,300 extra GPs are needed immediately to meet current demand and that an extra 8,000 are required by 2020.

Last month the GPC warned that the 5,000-GP target was 'impossible' after official data showed that a fifth of GP trainee posts for 2015 have not been filled.

Dr Baker said: ‘We are in dire straits if we do not act to address the GP recruitment crisis immediately and ensure that there are enough GPs in the system so that practices do not have to run with a substantial number of vacant positions.

‘Our new research brings home how difficult GP practices are finding it to recruit new doctors and retain existing ones. It is simply unrealistic to be thinking about seven-day working when our existing five-day service and out-of-hours GP services are under so much pressure.’

Seven-day GP service

She added: ‘Many GP services are already offering extended hours. However, opening for extended periods is pie-in-the-sky for many family doctors who are already working exceptionally long hours in clinic to cope with demand.

‘The government needs to move away from its obsession with 'providing a seven-day NHS' and do more to implement the joint 10-point plan to build the GP workforce and 'recruit retain and return' thousands more GPs as soon as possible, so that we can provide a good, solid and safe five-day service, and out-of-hours service, for our patients.

‘Routine seven-day working may improve patient safety in hospitals but in general practice it could have the opposite effect.’

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