Exclusive There has been a 44% reduction in the number of GP vacancies advertised since November 2022, a Pulse survey of 612 GP partners has revealed.
Pulse has reported in recent months that requests for GP locums within primary care settings ‘have reduced since the summer’ with ‘various new ARRS roles coming to the forefront at surgeries’, and locums have been asked to consider reducing their rates to secure work.
The survey, which was carried out last week and included partners from across the UK, found that alongside a reduction from last November, there has also been a 23% reduction in the number of vacancies since May this year.
GP leaders attributed this reduction in vacancies to a number of factors, including an increase in the ARRS success in hiring staff and a lack of resources and space to house GPs.
The survey also showed that 62% of partners reported an increase in the use of pharmacists by their practice, and an increase in the use of other roles.
This comes at a time when GP numbers are remaining stable, with October 2023 NHS Digital figures in England revealing a 0.4% year-on-year decrease in fully qualified full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs.
Dr Malinga Ratwatte, chair of the BMA’s GP registrars committee, said: ‘The sentiment that we are hearing from the ground from senior registrars, as well as recently qualified GPs who have just finished their training, is that they are finding it more and more difficult to find work – salaried jobs as well as locum work.
‘In the last few years GPs have recognised that the intensity of the work means that they find it difficult to work “full time” – the definition of that is variable.
‘I think GPs have sought to mitigate this by taking up different roles as part of a portfolio career, and that has been a way to retain the workforce to some extent.
‘But with the increase in the ARRS , the amount of work available as well as salaried jobs has actually decreased.
‘Our fear is that because those opportunities are no longer available, it’s probably going to drive an exodus of GPs out the profession and out of the country potentially.
‘We are worried that the expansion of ARRS roles is going to exacerbate the workforce crisis, and we are worried we are travelling in the wrong direction.’
Vacancies by numbers
Total number of vacancies reported by 612 GP partners who responded to the survey
November 2023: 347
May 2023: 449
November 2022: 619
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘These figures are surprising as what we hear from many members is that they are finding it very difficult to recruit GPs, even after several months. What I hope isn’t the case is that practices are giving up and making do without enough GPs to deliver the care and services their patient population really needs.
‘As a College, we’re very supportive of general practice working as GP-led, multi-disciplinary teams – and it isn’t surprising to see increased recruitment of many roles, given funding for ARRS roles practices have received. We want our patients to receive safe, timely and appropriate care, and often that doesn’t have to be delivered by a GP – but practice nurses, pharmacists and physios, for example, whilst excellent in their own fields are not substitutes for GPs. We continue to desperately need more GPs, but figures show that whilst workload in general practice is increasing, numbers of fully-qualified, full time equivalent GPs continue to fall.
‘Our manifesto sets out seven steps to safeguard general practice, and ensure patients can receive the care they need, in the future, and includes a call for a national retention scheme, to keep GPs working in general practice longer, as well as ramped up efforts to train more GPs.’
Dr Steve Taylor, GP spokesperson for Doctors’ Association UK, said: ‘There is clearly a reduction in the ability for GP practices to offer work for GPs based on these figures. A conclusion could be made that practices are using alternative direct patient care staff to fill vacancies.
‘Yet it is more likely that increasing costs are making it harder. With overall funding for GPs falling in real terms, many practices are having to ration the limited financial resources but also cope with a huge increase in demand. Some are choosing to use this limited funding differently. Practices should be financed for both more GPs and more clinical support staff. Currently they are not.’
Percentage of GP partners who said they have increased the use of the following health care professionals since November 2022
Physician associate 21% Paramedic 33% First-contact physiotherapist 47% Pharmacist 62% Mental health practitioner 41% Advanced clinical practitioner nurses 36% None of the above 12%
Pulse’s special recruitment survey was open between 13 and 21 November 2023, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. A total of 612 GP partners from across the UK responded to these questions. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a £150 John Lewis voucher as an incentive to complete the survey. The survey is unweighted, and we do not claim this to be scientific – only a snapshot of the GP population
Additional reporting: Anna Colivicchi