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GP vacancy rates quadruple in two years

Exclusive Practices are finding it increasingly hard to recruit new GPs, with vacancy rates quadrupling in the past two years and as many as one position in twelve unfilled, a Pulse survey has discovered.

The survey of 220 practices – covering around 950 full time positions – found an average vacancy rate of 7.9%. This was almost double the 4.2% figure found in the same survey in 2011, which in itself doubled the official figure of 2.1% at the start of 2011. 

GP experts have warned the figures show a looming ‘workforce crisis’, with not enough new GPs being trained, a reluctance among sessional GPs to take on full-time positions and more GPs retiring early.

The survey also revealed that 107 of 216 respondents – just under 50% - said they were thinking of retiring early.  A further 34 were undecided, while 75 said they were not thinking of it.

The results come after the BMA warned decreasing morale, increasing stress and falling practice funding would have a ‘real impact’ on recruitment and retention in general practice in its submission on the Government’s proposed contract changes.

LMC leaders have also warned that spiralling practice workload has led to ‘shocking’ numbers of GPs who require pastoral help to cope with stress and mental health issues.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the problem has been a big concern at the BMA contract roadshows: ‘Wherever we have been, GPs have been telling us there is a recruitment and retention crisis. It is starting to happen now.’

Dr Anne Crampton, a GP partner in Berkshire, said there had been 30 applicants when they were filling a partner post three years ago, but only five for a similar post this year.

She said: ‘I don’t know why general practice seems to be so unpopular. This difficulty in recruiting came to us as a complete surprise.’

Professor Bill Irish, the chair of the GP National Recruitment Office, said: ‘Every piece of workforce data out there shows we are under-recruiting to general practice and workload is rapidly becoming more and more unsustainable so there is absolutely a workforce crisis.’

Dr Barry Lewis, a GP in Rochdale and chair of the Committee of General Practice Education Directors, said despite expanding GP training places steadily, there was a problem with a lack of applicants.

He told Pulse: ‘We have empty slots in programmes, except in London and the South East. There are not enough applicants because an excess of hospital specialty posts is still in the system. There is a significant imbalance in the workforce at junior level that has and continues to produce too many “-ologists” and too few generalists, especially GPs.’

Pulse Live: 30 April - 1 May, Birmingham

Dr Tony Garelick and Dr Maja Meerten, consultant psychiatrists in psychotherapy, will be presenting a session on ‘Coping with burnout, stress and complaints in general practice’ at Pulse Live, Pulse’s new two-day annual conference for GPs, practice managers and primary care managers.

Pulse Live offers practical advice on key clinical and practice business topics, as well as an opportunity to debate the future of the profession, and a top range of speakers includes NICE chair designate Professor David Haslam, GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey and the Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP, chair of the House of Commons health committee.

To find out more and book your place, please click here.