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Independents' Day

One in ten partner vacancies left unfilled for a year

Exclusive One in ten GP partnership vacancies are left unfilled for more a year, as practices struggle to cope with a deepening recruitment crisis across the UK.

A Pulse survey reveals that one in ten GP partnership positions have been left vacant for more than a year, and a quarter have been vacant for over six months.

The survey of 440 GPs found 40% had to recruit a partner over the previous 12 months and of those with a vacancy, 10% were waiting more than 12 months before being able to fill it.

The results chime with other recent surveys. A survey of 270 practices across the south of England by Wessex LMC shows 70% had a vacancy to fill in the past year, of which almost one in three was unsuccessful.

Cleveland LMC found GPs receive an average of three applications for a partnership post; typically, one of these pulls out and one is unqualified, leaving a single potential candidate. 

Pulse also recently reported that one practice in a ‘relatively leafy, affluent’ part of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, has had to offer partners a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ to join and stay at the practice.

The results support the conclusion of a GPC paper in April that declared that the workforce gaps in general practice had reached ‘crisis point’.

The GPC briefing - drafted by members of the education, training and workforce subcommittees of the BMA - warned that the lack of applicants and the slow growth in GP training places, coupled with the impending large number of expected retirees, created a ‘perfect storm’ for the profession and concluded: ‘The effects on patients and profession alike will be catastrophic.

One of the respondents to the survey, Dr Andy Ward, a partner in Weymouth, Dorset, said his practice had been looking to recruit for a position for almost two years.

He said: ‘One of our female partners left two years ago. We advertised locally, had no applicants. We headhunted somebody, who turned out not to want to stay. We advertised nationally back in January, and had no applicants.

‘We are not in a part of the world where we have had problems before. We are a small, friendly, high-earning practice. Morale here is good and it is a great place to live. If we cannot recruit anyone here, how is the rest of the country doing?’

Dr Jane Lothian, medical secretary of Northumberland LMC, said her practice had to reconfigure the team as a result of being unable to find a partner.

She said: ‘My own small practice gave up trying to recruit doctors and ended up building around nurse practitioners. We were looking for a year and a half.’ 

She added it was a problem across the county: In the west of the county, quite frankly it is not much of a problem. In the south east, where the old coalfields are, it has been quite a problem and it is getting worse. Some practices in Northumberland have up to three doctors’ worth of vacancies.’

The Pulse survey also reveals a slight drop in the overall vacancy rates, showing that this year, there was a 6.43% vacancy rate among the 439 people who responded to the question compared with last year’s figure of 7.9%. However, it is still an increase on the 4.2% and 2.1% vacancy rates from 2012 and 2011 respectively.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said: ‘Practices are experiencing big funding cuts now and if they are PMS face even bigger cuts just around the corner, so they are having to seriously look at whether they can afford to replace GPs who are leaving. 

‘Some also have reluctantly accepted that they can’t recruit to vacancies and therefore had to look for other alternatives in terms of skill mix.’


Have you had to recruit a partner for your practice in the past 12 months?

Total answered – 442

Yes – 38%

No – 57%

Don’t know – 5%

If yes, how long did the process take?

Total answered – 180

Less than one month – 18%

1-2 months – 15%

2-3 months – 20%

3-6 months – 22%

6-12 months – 15%

More than 12 months – 10%

Vacancy rates

2011 – 2.1%

2012 – 4.2%

2013 – 7.9%

2014 – 6.4%

About the survey: Pulse launched this survey of readers on 15 April 2014, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 25 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. This question was answered by 442 GPs.

The vacancy rates ased on Pulse surveys, calculated by taking the number of partners in a practice, divided by the number of vacancies in those practices.


Readers' comments (13)

  • Considering we're in a "crisis" filling 9 out of 10 positions within a year is actually very good.

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  • Vinci Ho

    There must be reasons in these practices for insisting to look for a partner rather than going for long term locum or salaried post. There should be always a balance between the number of partners and salaried posts.
    Any government or party is 'negligent' if it buries the head in the sand presuming this crisis will go away by itself.........

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  • One way to reduce the recruitment crisis would be to reduce the workload pressure on those GPs who are partners to prevent them from leaving partnership.
    At the age of 54 I left my partnership a few months ago to prevent becoming burnt out. I cant believe how much better life is as a freelance GP. Sad, as I was committed to my practice and patients and assumed I would remain a partner till aged 60. No going back now though....

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  • 10:38am problem?..what problem?...bang on the money there.

    10% of vacancies unfilled within a year.. 25% of all partnership vacancies unfilled for 6 months.

    Everything is fact his is pretty good isn't it?

    ??? doubt they are using locums - the question is this what they want?

    I'm frequently struck by how often some partners on here talk about 'salaried' GPs as if they are two a penny commodities piled high somewhere ready to plug the gaps for 'proper' GPs (i.e. Partners) when ever needed. We all had the same training...we all do the same clinical job...we see the same patients...we can all get sued if we cock up...we are all GPs...Salaried GPs are predominantly early on in their you once were...and a fair number of them are totally disillusioned with what General practice has become and want out.

    You bet there's a crisis...and sticking your head in the sand and saying everything is fine is plan dumb.

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  • Nothing will be done until after the election . Politicians will pay lip service to the problems of primary care and offer solutions if they are elected . By then it will be too late to prevent implosion . If possible get out now before index linking is removed from the pension- oh yes that's coming too.

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  • Like 11.04 I also left age 54.
    Very sad because I was appreciated by my patients, was totally committed to general practice and worked like a dog.
    Life after partnership is great and I wish I had left earlier.

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  • What this article only alludes to is that we won't hit the rump of the baby boomer GP retirement age bulge for a few years yet but it's interesting that the cracks are already beginning to show. GP scarcity (as ever) is unlikely to be evenly spread and the politicians are unlikely to notice until the effects are felt in key marginal seats or the home counties. There is a further demographic problem when you look at trends towards part time GPs and the growing debt burdens of the under 45 group who are struggling with their mortgages and the need to 'buy-in', London being particularly badly affected.

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  • There are lot of retired gp's who will join again working 2 or 3 days a week. try and find out in your area, and you will have no problems covering sessions and they are cheaper as well.

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  • Sessional GP 11.08
    Well spoken. Locum GPs are not doctors. It is the attitude of GP partners that is creating the shortage of GPs. " salaried post with a view to partnership", x% of parity first, using and exploiting the salaried doctor before full parity, are all reasons for not wanting partnership posts.

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  • Drachula

    As a partner, if I were recruiting, I would want to choose a new partner based on knowledge of how they work. I would not offer a partnership to an unknown person. Hence I would be looking for salaried first. We have traditionally done 6m salaried with confirmation as a partner at that point if all goes well and if the new doctor wanted it.
    We are a training practice and I very much want to recruit the right person where the appointment is right for all parties. There are reports of some partners earning less than their employees.

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