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GP workforce crisis hits record level

The GP workforce crisis has plunged to a new low, official figures reveal. Annual Department of Health statistics show record numbers of GPs quitting the profession for other posts in the NHS and a collapse in the number of doctors applying for each GP vacancy.

Two-thirds of posts remained unfilled after six months, up from half last year ­ and more than a third are taking over a year to fill.

GPC chair Dr John Chis-holm warned problems with implementing the contract could make the situation worse. He said: 'There is still a lot of uncertainty and we know that leads to reduced morale.'

But health minister John Hutton brushed off the figures, claiming the increase in unfilled vacancies was simply a result of the rise in the number of GP posts.

Overall, 312 vacancies in England and Wales were unfilled in the year to March 2003. An average of 3.3 doctors applied for each post, down from 4.4 last year and 8.5 in 2000.

GPs in urban deprived areas found it hardest to recruit, but all areas saw a drop in the number of applicants for each post. Some 58 per cent of GPs said recruiting was harder than last year.

Despite the drive to attract GPs from overseas, only 10 were recruited.

GPs in the worst-hit regions said morale was plummeting due to rising workload and longer hours as a result of covering vacant posts.

Dr Paddy Keavney, a GP in Nottingham, said he had been working 80-hour weeks at his inner-city surgery. It has three vacancies and has been advertising for two years.

'We should be a practice of seven. We have had one or two bites of interest but nobody is prepared to make the commitment. We'll have anybody.'

The Government figures also reveal locums are shunning principal posts, with 155 taking jobs compared with 196 last year.

Dr Peter Fink, Manchester LMC secretary and a GP in the city, said his practice had had a vacancy for a year and had closed its list.

He added: 'It's easier to be a locum than a GP. As a locum you earn a lot more and there's no pressure.'

The scale of the recruitment problem

 · 58% of GPs report recruitment harder than last year

 · 103 GPs quit to move to other parts of the NHS, up from 14 in 2001

 · 3.3 GPs applying for each vacancy, down from

8.5 in 2000

 · 67% of vacancies are not filled within six months and 36.5% still vacant after a year

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