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Almost half of GPs have vacancies in their practice, BMA warns

Access to general practice is worsening, doctors have warned, as almost half of GPs tell BMA they had a doctor vacancy.

A BMA survey of GPs saw 47% of respondents report a doctor vacancy in their practice. Out of these, close to three quarters (73%) said at least one vacancy had gone unfilled for six months or more.

The findings form part of a larger BMA survey of 900 doctors, including 265 GPs, focusing on the workforce situation across primary and secondary care.

It also revealed that 71% of all respondents felt that access to GP and primary care services has worsened over the past 12 months.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the dire situation meant ‘many practices have given up advertising for GPs as they’ve had little or no response to previous attempts to recruit’.

His words echo the findings of Pulse’s latest vacancy investigation – based on responses from around 900 GPs – which last year found that almost one in five practices has had to abandon searching for a new GP as vacancy rates hit their highest ever (12.2% of all GP positions in the country).

Instead, Dr Vautrey said, practices are turning their hope other healthcare professionals ‘such as more nurses or pharmacists’ – promoted by NHS England in last year’s GP Forward View as a means to reduce GP workload – but he said ‘even this can be difficult in some areas of the country’.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘These levels of GP vacancies are having a major impact on patients as it makes it harder and harder to get an appointment with a practice when they need to be seen and it’s also having a major impact on the remaining practice staff members as they struggle to maintain adequate services to their local population with too few permanent members of the team to deliver this.’

He warned that the situation of short-staffed practices in turn added to the workload of existing staff ‘with the risk that they themselves become overwhelmed and are forced to leave’.

‘Ultimately if this spiral downwards is not addressed it leads to practices closing.’

This comes as a Pulse investigation into practice closures last year revealed that more than a quarter of a million patients in England were forced to move GP surgery in 2016.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘What’s needed is a real commitment to long-term recurrent funding for community and general practice services so a clear signal is sent to young doctors and other healthcare professionals that the NHS is really committed to resolving this problem and that the future will be better than it is now.’

The BMA’s survey further revealed that:

  • 67% of respondents thought that the delivery urgent and emergency care services had worsened;
  • 72% felt that mental health provision has worsened;
  • 86% thought that NHS financial sustainability has worsened.

Meanwhile, as for hospital workforce, more than seven in 10 hospital doctors (71%) reported rota gaps in their departments.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘These figures highlight doctors’ concerns about a decline in services and widespread staff shortages. As doctors, we want to be able to provide the best possible care for patients, but access and quality of care are being affected by staffing and financial pressures.

‘The result is delays in patients being treated, and doctors juggling large numbers of patients to compensate for staff shortages. This isn’t safe for patients and it isn’t sustainable for doctors.

‘With pressures rising year-on-year, we are calling on politicians to act now. We urgently need a long-term solution to the staffing and funding pressures facing the NHS, otherwise it simply won’t be able to provide the safe and high-quality care that patients deserve and doctors want to be able to deliver.’

Survey results

GP vacancies:

  • Current vacancies in the practice in which they work – 47% (out of which 73% said at least one vacancy unfilled for six months or more);
  • No vacancies in the practice in which they work – 53%

Access to GP and primary care services, over the past 12 months:

  • Has significantly improved – 1%
  • Has slightly improved – 5%
  • Has stayed the same – 23%
  • Has become signficantly worse – 35%

Source: BMA survey of 900 doctors, including 265 GPs, conducted online between 29 November and 19 December.