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Fears that tenth of GP roles in England are vacant

RCGP warns recruitment problems make seven-day working impossible

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 07 September 2015

More than a tenth of GP positions in England appear to be vacant with too much reliance on locums, claims the RCGP.

Shortages means that the government’s “obsession” with providing a seven-day NHS is unrealistic and unlikely to happen until there are enough permanent GPs in place, said the college.

Results from a RCGP survey of 549 practices in England released at the weekend found that 10.2% of full time equivalent positions there are vacant – 61% of which are currently filled by locum or agency staff.

Of the practices surveyed, around two thirds (64%) reported that finding enough locum doctors to meet growing patient demand was either difficult or very difficult. Only 8% reported that this was easy.

These findings from an online survey of more than 1,200 of RCGP members carried out in August, undermined the feasibility of government plans to introduce a seven-day working week in general practice, said the college.

To do so would mean having to stretch current resources even further.

It was more important and pressing, said the college, for the government and NHS England to concentrate their efforts on strengthening the GP workforce to ensure current five-day services were robust and to have better supported, better integrated, and better publicised out-of-hours GP services.

The college cited the latest GP Patient Survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of NHS England, which found that less than half (45%) of patients knew how to access out-of-hours GP services.

National efforts were needed to promote practice-based working as a secure and satisfying career for doctors entering the profession.

The college said that locum GPs played a key role in providing patient care, but it was a matter of concern that so many full time equivalent GP posts were vacant across the country.

The government has announced its plans to create 5,000 more GPs by 2020 and Health Education England has a target to ensure that half of all medical students choose to specialise in general practice.

However, the college estimates that around 3,300 additional GPs are needed now just to meet current demand, without taking into account growing patient demand over the next five years, and those GPs who will leave the profession due to retirement.

Its calculations show that England will need 8,000 additional GPs by 2020 to provide existing five day and out-of-hours services.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “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.

“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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