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GPs 'struggling' to find locum cover

Almost nine out of ten practices say they find it difficult to get cover

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 05 April 2016

Almost nine out of ten GP practices struggle to find locum cover to plug staffing gaps and a similar number regularly need temporary GPs to run services safely, according to a new survey.

The BMA questioned 2,814 GP practices in England and found that almost half (46 per cent) report they have trouble finding locum cover “frequently” with a further four in ten (40 per cent) saying they “occasionally” have issues.

Only one in ten practices indicated they did not require locum cover at all. The South and South West are the worst affected areas, with around six out of ten (61 per cent and 57 per cent respectively) saying they frequently have problems finding locum cover.

The South West (5 per cent) and the West Midlands (6 per cent) had the lowest numbers of GP practices saying they never needed locum cover.

These findings follow recent BMA surveys that showed the enormous pressures on general practice, with half of GP practices reporting their services had deteriorated in the last 12 months and 300 GP practices claiming they were close to closure.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said: “The need for locums can be generated by illness, maternity leave or other factors in the workforce and GP locums do an outstanding job of stepping in to provide care to patients at short notice. But increasingly GP practices are facing longer-term vacancies because of the recruitment crisis gripping general practice. If a GP locum cannot be found in these situations many practices struggle to offer enough appointments to meet their patients’ needs. 

"Last year more than 600 GP trainee places were unfilled, while more than a third of GPs are estimated to be considering retirement in the next five years. This comes at a time when many GP practices are buckling under the pressure of rising patient demand, stagnating funding and unresourced work being moved from hospitals into the community."

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, called for more investment in primary care: “... whilst locums provide an invaluable service we are currently relying on them too much to plug the long-term gaps in our workforce. At a time when we currently have a severe shortage of family doctors across the UK, it is essential that we do everything we can to encourage people to join our profession – whether as partnered, salaried or locum GPs.

“In the longer term, the College is calling for general practice to receive 11% of the NHS budget and to recruit thousands more GPs across the UK over the course of this parliament. This would allow us to deliver more services for patients, away from hospitals, where care is more expensive, and close to home, where our patients want and need care most.”

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