Pressures on GP partners must ease or rattled trainees will leave the country to find opportunities overseas, the new junior doctor leader has warned.
GP trainee Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya became a national hero as off-duty first responder amid Wednesday’s London terror attack, where he put on the line his own personal safety to care for injured patients on the scene.
But Dr Wijesuriya is not without fear, admitting in an exclusive interview with Pulse – which took place before the incident – that the lack of GP workforce is of major personal concern to him.
Dr Wijesuriya, who was elected chair in February following a period of interim leadership and an aborted round of further strike action in the junior doctor contract dispute, said general practice was ‘crying out’ for more GPs.
He added: ‘It is terrifying. As a young trainee speaking personally, there is a huge amount of opportunity I’m excited about.
‘But it’s scary there are fewer of us coming through, because we need people to come in and shoulder that weight that the GPs who are there at the moment are carrying.’
He suggested health education chiefs should make it easier to switch to GP training – ‘recognising the value that doctors bring from training in other specialties’, or after ‘going to work or train abroad’.
He said: ’We do have these train tracks, and we need to start to value the experience people bring.’
Dr Wijesuriya further said that for those who were already in GP training, the prospect of high-pressured partnerships left them ‘feeling trapped’ and considering overseas careers instead.
He said: ‘People do feel trapped in some ways and they are leaving, many of them to make sure they are better trained.’
To avoid a future where there was no one to come into partnerships, the overwhelming workload of GPs in practices had to be addressed, Dr Wijesuriya stressed.
He said: ‘What people want is changing and we have to accommodate that so we have a future workforce, so there are people to come into partnerships in practices.
‘This generation want to feel valued and are looking at these increased pressures – seeing the pressures that GPs are under – it’s absolutely incredible.’
Meanwhile, for trainee doctors in general, Dr Wijesuriya said the NHS faces a major challenge in ‘rebuilding trust’ after last year’s damaging contract battle.
To repair this rift – which saw junior doctors going on several strikes only to have the Government impose their new contract – Dr Wijesuriya said the NHS must look at its emotional impact.
He said: ‘I’m really mindful of the emotional impact of imposition, you have to look at how you rebuild trust between employer and employees.
‘It’s something we need to work on, because the reality is, this [contract] is something that has been forced on people.’
The junior doctor dispute and changes to UK health education
Jeremy Hunt hailed a ‘historic settlement in the contract fight last year after a year of industrial dispute, including unprecedented strike action, between junior doctors and the Government over a new contract which redefined weekends and evenings as core working hours.
But the GMC said as recently as December last year that heavy workload was undermining junior doctors’ training, and surveys show half of newly qualified GPs and other doctors are looking to work overseas.
The BMA’s GP Trainee committee have recently agreed new guidance on work scheduling for training practices and trainees, and Dr Wijesuriya told Pulse that in general practice training they were fortunate to have safeguarded quality training time.
At the Conservative Party Conference 2016 Jeremy Hunt committed to tying NHS trained doctors to the health service for at least four years, but Dr Wijesuriya thinks mending its relationship with junior doctors and boosting GPs numbers will require more flexibility in accomodating new career paths, not less.