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A third of practices wait over a year to fill GP staff posts

Vacancy gap is ‘deeply concerning’, says GP lead

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 05 December 2016

Almost a third of GP practices in England have been unable to fill GP staff vacancies for a year.

In survey results, revealed today, the British Medical Association reports that 31% of GP partners have been unable to fill vacancies in the last 12 months. The poll of 3,567 GP partners also shows that a further one in five (18%) say it takes between three and six months to recruit to a vacancy.

The report follows figures released last week by the BMA showing that patient safety was being put at risk by unmanageable levels of workload in general practice.

Key findings from the poll include:

  • Almost a third of GP partners (31%) have been unable to fill vacancies in the last 12 months. 
  • The West Midlands (35%), the East of England (35%) and the East Midlands (34%) were the areas with the highest levels of vacancies that were not filled within 12 months or longer.
  • Only one in eight GP partners (13%) reported not needing to fill a gap in their workforce.
  • Around a third of GP partners who need to hire locums do so in order to cover long-term employment vacancies (31%) or to be able to continue to provide a full range of services (30%) to their patients.
  • There was a strong relationship between GPs’ workload and the ability of their practice to fill vacancies. Over four in 10 GP partners (44%) who described their workload as excessive and significantly impacting on care also report being unable to fill vacancies, compared to only around one in seven (14%) of this group who say their practice has been able to fill vacancies within a reasonable timeframe.

Commenting, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said: “It is deeply concerning that so many GPs are reporting that their practices effectively have permanent holes in their workforce, which they are unable to fill.

“In addition to this, only a small number of GP practices are operating with no vacancies, while the vast majority of GP services are suffering from constant shortages of GPs. It is clear that the crisis is so bad that general practice is being kept afloat by the essential help of locums who are stepping in to provide day to day services to patients.”

Dr Nagpaul added: “These chronic shortages come despite government promises at the last election to recruit 5,000 more GPs, a pledge that has failed to materialise. As these figures demonstrate, those practices with long-term vacancies are also those struggling with unmanageable workload, leaving many GP services struggling to provide even basic care to their community.

“We need ministers to listen to the warnings from grassroots GPs and implement in full their pledges in the GP Forward View to properly staff and resource general practice. Whilst NHS England has accepted the BMA’s recommendations from our Urgent Prescription for General Practice, we now need words turned into swift action to rapidly turn around this current crisis in GP services.”

Dr Zoe Norris, BMA GP Sessional Subcommittee chair, said: “Choosing a career as a salaried or locum GP is a positive choice for thousands of GPs across England. As this survey shows, many opt for these jobs because they are flexible and for locums offer a degree of control over their own workload. Sessional GPs also said they would consider a wide range of options for the future, including the increasingly popular portfolio GP role. 

“However, we should not be blind to the fact that salaried and locum GPs are on the receiving end of the same pressures that are threatening all of general practice. Many are overworked and operating in an environment with not enough staff or resources. This is bad for patients and demoralising for doctors. We need NHS England and the government to realise that they cannot continue to rely on burnt out grassroots GPs to provide a service that is under threat of collapse.”

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