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Almost one-fifth of GP sessions covered by locums in deprived areas

Nearly one in five GP sessions in England’s most deprived areas are covered by locum doctors, according to an analysis of official data.

Patients in the country’s most deprived areas are much more likely to be seen by locum GPs than those living in less deprived area, a BBC analysis of Health and Social Care Information Centre data showed.

It revealed that 18% of GPs working in NHS Bradford City CCG in September 2015 were locums, compared to a national average of 3.4%. This compared to the more affluent NHS Wokingham CCG’s 0.9%.

Other areas with high deprivation and a high reliance on locums included Sandwell and West Birmingham (11.8%) in the Midlands and Barking and Dagenham (9%) in East London.

The analysis comes as GP practices in deprived areas have fought for years for increased funding in relation to other practices, arguing that this affects the workload.

But a review of the funding allocation formula is still ongoing, having stopped and started multiple times since 2007.

NHS Bradford City CCG said that ‘locum GPs are trained to the same high standards as full-time GPs’ and that ‘where possible’ they were taken on for longer periods of time to ensure continuity locally.

But a spokesperson added: ‘We have a range of socio-economic challenges in Bradford. Doctors do have a choice over where to work and many choose to work in areas where demands may be less challenging… 

‘Together with NHS England and Health Education England, we need a long-term plan to make general practice more attractive and train more GPs who want to work in Bradford.’

GP leaders blamed the high rate of locum use on the ongoing GP recruitment crisis, but said GPs in deprived areas found it a particularly difficult to replace GPs who leave.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The current crisis in general practice and the shortage of GPs is having a major impact across the UK, with some practices, particularly those serving deprived populations, really struggling to recruit new GPs to replace those who leave.

‘In order to maintain services to their patients these practices are using more GP locums, but whilst locums provide an essential and valuable service, they are not able to deliver the long term continuity of care that patients benefit from and which is the bedrock of good general practice.

He added that it was ‘vital’ for the Government in England, as well as in the devolved nations, to ‘reverse the decade of underfunding that has led to this crisis and step up their efforts to tackle the GP recruitment and retention so that practices can recruit new GPs when they need to’.

The BBC’s data analysis discounted information from the South East of England because this was incomplete.