This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

Revealed: GP vacancy rates rocket with one in six roles unfilled

Exclusive GP vacancy rates are at the highest level ever recorded, with one in six positions currently unfilled, a major Pulse survey has revealed.

Pulse's annual vacancy survey of 658 GPs found that 15.3% of GP positions are currently empty, up from 12.2% last year, and 11.7% in 2016.

It also showed that the recruitments issues were concentrated on certain practices, with two-thirds of the vacancies reported at practices where there were more than one position unfilled. 

GP leaders said that these workforce shortages are 'placing an intolerable pressure' on GPs.

The last official figures were published in 2011 and showed a 2.1% vacancy rate. Pulse has run its vacancy survey since 2012, when the level of positions vacant was 4.2%, and it offers the only longitudinal data on the subject.

GPs reported that inability to recruit and funding shortages have also forced many practices to cut GP positions, relying on non-GP staff and forcing practices to close patient lists.

Recent official figures showed that 1,000 GPs have left the workforce since 2015, setting the Government well behind its target to recruit 5,000 GPs by 2020.This caused health secretary Jeremy Hunt to admit that fulfilling the target would be a 'struggle'.

In January, the BMA revealed that almost half of GPs had vacancies in their practices. This comes after a third of GP practices told the BMA they had vacancies unfilled for 12 months, and nine out of ten said their workload was often unmanageable.

Dr Janine O’Kane, a GP partner in Belfast, said her practice can no longer afford more doctors and also relies on her nurse practitioner. Dr O’Kane said: ‘They are starving the best and most cost effective primary health care system in the world of funds.’

Another GP, who did not want to be named, said failure to recruit GPs has forced them to rely on nurse practitioners, pharmacists and paramedics.

He said: ‘This provides appointments but means that individual GP list sizes have risen substantially. Results, letters, paperwork, prescribing requests and admin workload all go to the named GP, so high list sizes bring high workload and responsibility.’

The shift from partners and salaried GPs to a multi-disciplinary team and locums was noted by many respondents. GPs said that advertising for roles resulted in no applicants and one person noted it had taken 18 months to recruit a partner.

BMA GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The fact that so many surgeries are unable to recruit GPs provides yet more evidence of the scale of the crisis impacting general practice.

‘The Government must prioritise general practice and urgently invest in it to address this growing crisis which is threatening to undermine the foundation on which the wider NHS is built. We cannot allow a situation where patient safety is being compromised by a lack of political action.’

Dr Vautrey said unfilled vacancies have created ‘unmanageable’ workloads.

He added: ‘This is placing an intolerable pressure on local GP services, especially as they increasingly need to deliver intensive, specialist care in the community to the growing number of older patients with complex health conditions.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said:‘We are acutely aware that GPs and their teams are struggling to recruit across the UK, and the problem is still getting worse. When a practice can’t recruit, they often have no choice but to rely on locum staff, at a greater cost.

'We know that in some areas recruiting locums is becoming difficult, and we are short of other allied healthcare professionals in the community too – especially experienced practice nursing staff. The problem is that in many areas the GPs simply aren’t there to employ.'

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'GPs are a crucial part of the NHS - that’s why we are increasing investment by £2.4bn a year by 2020 and more than 3,000 GPs are expected to be recruited into training this year.

'The Prime Minister recently announced increased funding for the NHS by £20.5bn over the next five years - to secure the future of the health service as it celebrates its 70th birthday and ensure we can deal with the pressures of a growing ageing population.'


vacancy rates graph

vacancy rates graph

Readers' comments (21)

  • Surprised any one where are the 5000 Mr Hunt,even the shadow brigade wouldn't. fill this hole.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Looks like the result of 'penance' to me Mr Hunt.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Azeem Majeed

    It's very clear that there are not enough GPs now and won't be enough in the future for them to continue working in the way do now. We need a radical rethink about the role of GPs and much greater use of other professional groups in primary care.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Less doctors + increase patient demand.
    More likely to make mistakes within a culture of litigation.

    Northern Ireland had an opportunity to hand back their lists en masse but didn't take it.

    We are as much to blame as the Government as we have let this happen without any resistance. Completely rudderless, devoid of any leadership.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Recruitment is worsening and is going to get worse....

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • already given up hope NI GP

    Apparently a new contract is about to be negotiated
    Number 1 on the list should be making all GPs salaried
    Todays GPs want to see patients not manage a business
    Take all this crap away and the job will become instantly more attractive

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • this is deeply worrying.
    Why when we are training so many more medics is the problem worsening? Is it the part time working practices so twice as many doctors are needed?
    I also worry that the use of 'noctors' puts more strain on the few GPs left seeing the complex and often depressing cases and this will only hasten their burnout. I've been a GP now for 35 years and still love it but i see everything with no noctors involved so lots of quick simple stuff to keep me sane amidst the depressing cases. Just seeing complex cases would soon drain me and I believe this is why OOH is becoming so unpopular as the few GPs still doing it are loaded with all the difficult cases. Am I alone in thinking the whole of general practice is heading in the wrong direction when moving towards the GP consultant model with lots of helping noctors?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • ''A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'GPs are a crucial part of the NHS - that’s why we are increasing investment by £2.4bn a year by 2020 and more than 3,000 GPs are expected to be recruited into training this year''.
    An adage says that ' A housefly that wants to die follows the corpse to the grave.
    I rest my case.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Wouldnt be salaried to a big trust or conglomerate as they tend to be very abusive employers,silver surfer.Would locum or join an agency instead.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Is this a surprise to anyone
    General practice has been under unsustainable pressure and the the adage
    “you don’t have to be mad to work here but you will become mad working here”
    Comes to mind
    I left general practice last year after 34.5
    years and now work as a locum OOH.
    A world of difference and it is a pleasure going to work.
    We are trained to see patients not run services and put up with the CQC and many manipulations of our work and pay.
    Respect for one of the hardest jobs in the Nhs is needed.
    The service may need to collapse before it is resuscitated
    The public will not forgive the government that allows a collapse to happen!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

View results 10 results per page20 results per page50 results per page

Have your say