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GPs buried under trusts' workload dump

Commissioning to prompt GP recruitment boom as consortia chiefs warn: 'We're spread too thin'

By Alisdair Stirling

Exclusive: The NHS reforms will create a boom in GP recruitment with extra specialist salaried GPs and partners shouldering new workload from secondary care and an army of locums 'backfilling' GPs on consortium duties, experts have predicted.

Consortia are already feeling the need for extra GP cover, Pulse has learned, but currently have insufficient funds to pay for it. Meanwhile, medical recruitment agencies are gearing up for a surge in demand from GP practices and consortia struggling to keep up with the extra workload.

Dr Peter Bouzyk, a sessional GP based in Gloucester and director of the Doc2Doc GP recruitment agency, said agencies were already seeing an uplift in demand.

'It´s already started - we´ve had a few consortia get in touch looking for cover for their chair who´s a GP,' he said. 'They´re typically looking for cover for a couple of days a week because GPs are needing to take time off.'

'The groundswell we can feel is definitely coming from the changes the government is introducing,' he added. 'It happened with fundholding. There was a big rise in demand for locums as GPs took on more admin work. This time there will be a demand for GPwSIs and other specialist GPs to take on hospital consultant work in outreach clinics as the reforms kick in.'

In a new report on the state of the medical workforce published this month, Tony Moss, managing director of Your World medical recruitment agency, said: 'There is a general shortage of GPs and it is expected that there will be a surge in demand for GPs when PCTs are abolished – both those with specialist interests who can perform procedures previously confined to hospitals and also generalist GPs to take over patient appointments while the consortia handle the business side of things.'

Dr Bill Tamkin, chair of South Manchester Commissioning Consortium, told Pulse many more GPs were going to be needed to implement the reforms.

'The work involved in GP commissioning is huge and with the day job as well many of us are already spread far too thin,' he said. 'One of the drivers of this is the need to move more services into the community so we're going to need many more GPs with specialties to make it work.'

'On the negative side, there will be a lot of middle-aged and older GPs who don't fancy the change and are likely to opt for retirement who will need to be replaced. Luckily the registrars I´m teaching are interested and many are wondering how to get involved with commissioning and the possibility of leading consortia.'

'Ideally I´d like to have more GPs now in our consortium but there´s not the money to do it - yet. We definitely need more bodies.'

The expected recruitment boom comes against the background of an already-improving jobs market. Figures from the NHS Information Centre released last August showed total GP vacancy rates in England had risen to 2.1%, compared to 1.6% in 2009. The figures, which include both salaried and partner positions, showed the rate for longer-term vacancies, lasting three months or more, had also increased from 0.3% in 2009 to 0.5%.

Meanwhile, figures from the National Recruitment Office for GP Training show there are currently 3,360 vacancies for GP trainees.

Dr John Ribchester, a GP in Whitstable, Kent and chair of the Whitstable pathfinder consortium, added: 'There is certainly a need for more GPs. Personally, I'm job sharing – doing two weeks general practice, two weeks admin and we´ve got a salaried GP filling in for me which is certainly better than a series of locums. And if we´re going to have more care outside hospitals we´re going to need more GpwSIs. We´ve already got seven out of 19 GPs in our practice.'

'Financially, we´re taking a hit at the moment but think it´s worth it in the long run. Basically, if there are going to be more chiefs, we´re going to need more Indians.'

Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chief executive of the National Association of Non-Principals, said: 'There´s always extra demand for locums whenever there´s a money-saving initiative introduced. We're expecting a big demand from GP commissioning consortia to backfill for GPs taking on more admin roles.'

Dr John Ribchester: 'If there are going to be more chiefs, we're going to need more Indians' Dr John Ribchester: 'If there are going to be more chiefs, we're going to need more Indians'

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