GP vacancies rise by 50 per cent in just one year

GP vacancies rise by 50 per cent in just one year

The number of vacancies for GPs has risen by almost 50 per cent in one year, sparking fears that a national shortage of doctors is worse than was feared. New figures show that almost one in ten posts for GP partners are now unfilled, a figure which has quadrupled in just four years.

Family doctors said increasing numbers were taking early retirement or considering emigration because they felt overworked and unable to cope with the extra demand from an ageing population. The Conservatives have pledged to improve access to family doctors, so that all patients are able to see a GP on any day of the week, with same day-appointments for the over-75s.

Labour has promised to bring back targets which guarantee an appointment within two days. Labour leader Ed Miliband has promised 8,000 more GPs, while the Conservatives have said they will recruit 5,000 more.

Each say the changes are required to improve care for patients, and relieve pressure on overloaded Accident & Emergency departments.

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However, it takes a decade to train as a family doctor, and experts said the shortages were affecting patients now.

Nigel Praities, editor of Pulse magazine, which carried out the survey, said: “These figures reveal the fantasy world that politicians from the main parties are living in.

“We do not have enough GPs to staff current services, but they are promising seven-day access or quicker appointments. They need to get real.”

The figures from a survey of 458 GP practices in England show that in 2011, there were vacancy rates of 2.1 per cent, rising to 6.4 per cent by last year, and now to 9.1 per cent. One in five practices said it had taken them at least a year to fill vacancies. Separate figures show one third of training places for new GPs due to take up post in August are currently unfilled. And a BBC poll last month found most GPs plan to take early retirement, with just 6 per cent committing themselves to working until the age of 65.

Dr Imogen Bloor said she had closed her GP practice in Islington, north London, because it was “impossible” to recruit.

She said: “We have tried our utmost to find a way of continuing to provide high-quality care for our patients, but we feel unable to take the practice forward.”

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, from the British Medical Association’s GP education and training subcommittee said: “There are not enough new doctors becoming GPs, too many older GPs retiring and those of us who are left are overworked and underpaid.”

He said it would take a time machine for any of the major parties to fulfil their GP recruitment pledges. 

Dr Raghunandan Vedapanakal, a GP in Whitehaven, Cumbria, said his practice has been short of two doctors for two years. He said increasing demand from patients and too much “meddling” from Government had led to 12-hour working days and more stress among GPs.

Under the Tory pledge, all patients would be able to access a GP seven days a week for routine appointments, seven days a week, by 2020. Under the plan, groups of GP surgeries will be encouraged to band together in order to share the workload at evenings and weekends, so that not every practice has to open.

More than 1,000 practices have begun offering extra services at evenings and weekends, with 1,400 more signed up to do so by next year, giving 18 million people access to seven-day care. Findings from the early schemes suggest the number of patients turning up to Accident & Emergency departments has fallen by up to one quarter in some areas.

Professor Nigel Mathers, honorary secretary of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: "These figures reinforce what the College has been saying for some time - that we have a severe shortage of family doctors across the UK and that this is now having a serious impact on our patients who are having to wait longer and longer for a GP appointment.

"We are encouraged that, in the run-up to the General Election, many of the political parties have recognised the pressures facing GPs and have pledged more GPs and more investment for general practice.

"Now we need to see these pledges backed up with firm commitments to implement robust plans to build the GP workforce

-Demand from the NHS for agency nurses has doubled in just three years, separate research shows.

A report by the King's Fund says widespread shortages of nurses and doctors could jeopardise an NHS five year plan drawn up by the head of the health service to tackle growing pressures on services.

The report warns of a "heavy reliance" on temporary workers, with new figures showing the number of requests for agency nurses hired via NHS Professionals has doubled in three years.

The figures show almost 2 million requests for shifts via the central agency in January of this year, compared with less than 1 million in April 2012. Recent investigations have found Accident & Emergency units paying up to £3,200 a shift to hire a locum doctor and up to £2,200 a day for a nurse. The new report warns of particular shortages of staff in community settings, with a 30 per cent fall in senior district nurses and a 16 per cent call in community nurses in the last five years.

Rachael Addicott, Senior Research Fellow at The King’s Fund said: “The workforce is a key asset for the NHS and is pivotal in meeting the health needs of current and future patients. We need the right people in the right place, able to adapt their skills to changing demographics and work together to support new models of care. However the trends we are seeing are moving in the opposite direction."

By Laura Donnelly,

The Telegraph, Wednesday 29 April 2015

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