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One in ten partner vacancies left unfilled for a year

Exclusive One in ten GP partnership vacancies are left unfilled for more a year, as practices struggle to cope with a deepening recruitment crisis across the UK.

A Pulse survey reveals that one in ten GP partnership positions have been left vacant for more than a year, and a quarter have been vacant for over six months.

The survey of 440 GPs found 40% had to recruit a partner over the previous 12 months and of those with a vacancy, 10% were waiting more than 12 months before being able to fill it.

The results chime with other recent surveys. A survey of 270 practices across the south of England by Wessex LMC shows 70% had a vacancy to fill in the past year, of which almost one in three was unsuccessful.

Cleveland LMC found GPs receive an average of three applications for a partnership post; typically, one of these pulls out and one is unqualified, leaving a single potential candidate. 

Pulse also recently reported that one practice in a ‘relatively leafy, affluent’ part of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, has had to offer partners a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ to join and stay at the practice.

The results support the conclusion of a GPC paper in April that declared that the workforce gaps in general practice had reached ‘crisis point’.

The GPC briefing – drafted by members of the education, training and workforce subcommittees of the BMA – warned that the lack of applicants and the slow growth in GP training places, coupled with the impending large number of expected retirees, created a ‘perfect storm’ for the profession and concluded: ‘The effects on patients and profession alike will be catastrophic.

One of the respondents to the survey, Dr Andy Ward, a partner in Weymouth, Dorset, said his practice had been looking to recruit for a position for almost two years.

He said: ‘One of our female partners left two years ago. We advertised locally, had no applicants. We headhunted somebody, who turned out not to want to stay. We advertised nationally back in January, and had no applicants.

‘We are not in a part of the world where we have had problems before. We are a small, friendly, high-earning practice. Morale here is good and it is a great place to live. If we cannot recruit anyone here, how is the rest of the country doing?’

Dr Jane Lothian, medical secretary of Northumberland LMC, said her practice had to reconfigure the team as a result of being unable to find a partner.

She said: ‘My own small practice gave up trying to recruit doctors and ended up building around nurse practitioners. We were looking for a year and a half.’ 

She added it was a problem across the county: In the west of the county, quite frankly it is not much of a problem. In the south east, where the old coalfields are, it has been quite a problem and it is getting worse. Some practices in Northumberland have up to three doctors’ worth of vacancies.’

The Pulse survey also reveals a slight drop in the overall vacancy rates, showing that this year, there was a 6.43% vacancy rate among the 439 people who responded to the question compared with last year’s figure of 7.9%. However, it is still an increase on the 4.2% and 2.1% vacancy rates from 2012 and 2011 respectively.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said: ‘Practices are experiencing big funding cuts now and if they are PMS face even bigger cuts just around the corner, so they are having to seriously look at whether they can afford to replace GPs who are leaving. 

‘Some also have reluctantly accepted that they can’t recruit to vacancies and therefore had to look for other alternatives in terms of skill mix.’


Have you had to recruit a partner for your practice in the past 12 months?

Total answered – 442

Yes – 38%

No – 57%

Don’t know – 5%

If yes, how long did the process take?

Total answered – 180

Less than one month – 18%

1-2 months – 15%

2-3 months – 20%

3-6 months – 22%

6-12 months – 15%

More than 12 months – 10%

Vacancy rates

2011 – 2.1%

2012 – 4.2%

2013 – 7.9%

2014 – 6.4%

About the survey: Pulse launched this survey of readers on 15 April 2014, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 25 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. This question was answered by 442 GPs.

The vacancy rates ased on Pulse surveys, calculated by taking the number of partners in a practice, divided by the number of vacancies in those practices.