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Practices offered £400k emergency fund to ease GP shortage

Exclusive Practices in Essex have been offered a share of a £400k fire-fighting fund after health education chiefs stepped in to help fight the GP recruitment crisis now engulfing the region.

Health Education England (HEE) said it is planning to invest an additional £250,000 in 2014/15 to the £150,000 it provided in 2013/14 to hire locums and increase practice nurse numbers.

Pulse revealed in January that the crisis in the region has seen one permanent GP having to serve more than 8,000 residents in one area in the north-east of the county.

Local leaders and HEE chiefs have said the money will be used in the short term for locum doctors and training nurse practitioners, while longer-term measures include recruitment, return to practice and retention schemes, education and training, practice development support and workforce planning across primary care.

In addition, the LMC has said NHS England local area teams and CCGs in Essex are also ‘looking at making their own contributions’ to help ease the shortage, with increasing GP numbers and practice staff set out as the most urgent priorities.

Pulse revealed last year that practices across the country were finding it increasingly hard to recruit new GPs, with vacancy rates quadrupling in the past two years and as many as one position in 12 unfilled.

Essex LMCs chief executive Dr Brian Balmer warned in January that practices were struggling with recruitment and that general practice could ‘disappear’ in some areas, with residents of Frinton-on-Sea having only one permanent GP to serve more than 8,000 residents.

Rob Bowman, the managing director of HEE’s local team, Essex Workforce Partnership, said it was working together with the local area team, all seven Essex CCGs – led by NHS North East Essex CCG – and the LMC on an Essex-wide approach to supporting primary care.

He said: ‘This is a priority area for the Essex system and one that all parties acknowledge need this support.’

‘The Essex work is being developed to respond to local needs – taking a short and longer term view of the issues to be addressed and the appropriate actions – but is also in the context of East of England wide and indeed national approaches to primary care.’

‘Our initial focus is on GPs and practice staff but will extend to include the whole primary care workforce.’

Dr Balmer said: ‘It is early days but we have identified funding from our workforce partnership… and we are hoping for contributions from area teams and CCGs but it is difficult to nail them down.’

‘We have early plans for what we will prioritise, what we are wanting to get on with quickly, and it will be support for sessional and locum doctors and nurse apprenticeships to start training up more practice nurses.’

Pulse revealed in January that NHS England was stepping in to help amid the Essex GP shortage.