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One in five GP positions unfilled as vacancy rates reach record levels

One in five GP positions unfilled as vacancy rates reach record levels

Exclusive Nearly one in five GP positions in the UK are unfilled according to a Pulse survey, the highest since the data has been collected.

The questions, answered in full by 376 GP partners across the UK, asked how many full-time equivalent GPs roles were filled, how many were currently being advertised and how many FTE GPs practices would hire if there were no problems in recruiting them.

The survey revealed:

  • Of the total number of GPs needed, 18.5% of positions were unfilled – higher than February 2022, when 17% of GP posts were unfilled, and May 2021, when the rate was 14%.
  • Only one in 10 vacancies are currently being advertised, with GPs saying they had given up trying to recruit the remaining 8.5% of vacancies.
  • Two thirds – 66% of practices – said they would hire at least one more GP if there were no problems in recruiting, while 32% said they would hire at least two more.

The latest NHS Digital data on GP numbers in England, published in August 2023, show the NHS has lost 2,187 fully qualified FTE GPs since September 2015 and over the last year alone, it has lost 330 fully qualified FTE GPs.

This is despite the Government having pledged to recruit an additional 6,000 GPs in England by 2024. There are similar shortages across the UK.

Some GPs responding to the survey said they received no responses to adverts for vacant posts, while others said they resorted to changing their recruitment strategy by sourcing and training their own GPs.

West Wales GP Dr Richard Brown said: ‘We’ve been advertising for GP or advanced nurse practitioner staff for many, many months with no success. Being short staffed in the face of burgeoning work placed on primary care is taking its toll. The remaining clinical team are being pushed to burn out.

‘The recruitment crisis is a culmination of a few things: secondary care passing back work and refusing referrals; lack of investment in the GP contract, making partnership unappealing to newly qualified GPs; and a torrid working environment that encourages earlier GP retirement.

‘My practice is very much at risk and may become another statistic. It’s an increasingly difficult environment to work in.’

Merseyside GP Dr Eithne MacRae said her practice has been recruiting for a salaried GP role with a view to partnership for months but has also received ‘very limited interest’.

Dr MacRae said: ‘I think part of the reason general practice is struggling is the fact that nobody wants to take on a partnership. Nobody seems to want to work full time, opting instead for a portfolio career.

‘Being a GP no longer feels vocational. Everyone seems to be about work-life balance. It would help the workforce crisis if newly qualified GPs were not thousands of pounds in debt for their tuition fees. No wonder so many are fleeing abroad… We need people dedicated to general practice.

‘We have advertised for a salaried role with view to partnership, but at the rate the funding seems to be cut, or having to work longer and harder to maintain pay, we are fighting a losing battle.’

Meanwhile, a GP in South East England, who wished to remain anonymous, said advertising for GPs proved so fruitless they now source and train their own.

He said: ‘If ever we met a doctor in training or even a relative of a doctor in training, we would ask them if they were interested in a job at the end of their training. We were at the level of offering jobs to doctors a year before they were likely to finish training who had not passed their exams at that stage.’

He added that if practices advertise often for staff, ‘people may assume that you are significantly understaffed so working there will be very hard and do not apply’.

Pulse’s survey was open between 9 and 15 June 2023, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. A total of 376 GP partners from across the UK answered the three questions in full. We worked out the total number of positions by adding together those currently filled and those that practices would hire if recruiting wasn’t an issue. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a £250 John Lewis voucher as an incentive to complete the survey. The survey is unweighted, and we do not claim this to be scientific – only a snapshot of the GP population.

Results in full

How many full-time equivalent GPs does your practice currently have?

15 or more8

How many vacant full-time equivalent GP roles are you currently advertising for?


How many additional full-time equivalent GPs would you like to recruit if sourcing GPs wasn’t a problem?

6 or more4



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

John Graham Munro 28 August, 2023 2:39 pm

Plenty of locums about———even long term——–but they are savvy——won’t be used as ‘dumping grounds’——– often worth their weight in gold,——— and cost the earth

Hank Beerstecher 30 August, 2023 8:52 am

Is there any partner left who is not regretting signing up to unlimited work for an inadequate budget while being bullied by NHS England on prescribing, appointments, referrals, bullied by patients for prescribing appointments referrals, by CQC nitpicking fault finding data trawling, GMC revalidation and contract changes unilaterally imposed, while working with inadequate software without functioning secondary care services, risking the ‘last man standing’ scenario. Yes, I ponder why after 11 years of bullying, 4 CQC, 5 NHS England, 5 GMC, 2 NCAS investigations I promised myself: never again a principal.

Simon Gilbert 30 August, 2023 9:35 am

Vacancy rate assumes there is spare money to pay for GPs that is not ring fenced to other staff groups.