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Practice asks patients to ‘bear with’ it as GP vacancies remain unfilled

A practice in Yorkshire has forewarned patients that waiting times for an appointment will increase, as GP vacancies continue to go unfilled.

The Whitby Practice took to Twitter to ask patients to ‘bear with us’ as three GPs are planning to leave the practice ‘imminently’.

Their departures are set to leave 6.5 full-time equivalent GPs to cover the practice’s 14,000 patients, with the practice fearing that waiting times ‘will be getting worse’.

Vikki Royal, head of HR, premises and patient liaison at the practice, told Pulse: ‘The practice has been trying to recruit GPs since January – advertising on the RCGP website, NHS Jobs and social media.

‘Despite being a young, dynamic partnership, the national shortage of doctors has meant that rural areas such as ours find it hard to recruit.’

The ‘patient notice’ from the practice, posted on Twitter last week, said: ‘We will be under extreme pressure in the next few months, therefore we ask that you bear with us.’

Ms Royal said the aim of the post was to ‘manage expectations’ of the patients.

She said: ‘We posted on social media to proactively manage the expectations of our patients, and let them be aware of what we are trying to do in the current climate. We are looking forward to the changes and challenges ahead and want to include our patients as much as possible.’

The practice is also trying to meet demand by recruiting other healthcare professionals including nurse practitioners and care navigators.

But Ms Royal said that ‘training will take a little time, during which we expect appointment waiting times to increase’.

‘It is going to get so that the waiting time for an appointment will start to increase and it’s just trying to let people be aware of that.

‘I’ve got a horrible feeling that this is going to be chronic and I think it will be getting worse,’ she told Pulse.

The latest official figures show that 1,000 GPs have left the workforce since 2015, setting the Government well behind its target to recruit 5,000 GPs by 2020.

Ms Royal said: ‘It’s not a problem with our practice, we’re in a lovely locale. We’ve got a good CQC report. We’re a nice friendly place to work. It’s just there’s nobody out there.’

In the last 10 years, the majority of the practice’s new GPs have come through the local GP training scheme, but in August 2016, none of the 11 training places in the area were filled.

In August 2017 six out of 11 training places were filled but the local targeted enhanced recruitment scheme has filled only two of 11 two places for August 2018, according to the practice, Ms Royal said.

This comes after a Pulse investigation found that 1.3m patients have been displaced from their GP due to practice mergers and closures, many of which were in rural areas, where recruitment was difficult.

NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG said in a statement to Pulse: ‘The CCG is fully aware of Whitby Group Practices recruitment position.

‘There is a national shortage of GPs, however, Whitby Group Practice have been very proactive at looking at the most sensible skill mix to meet the demands of the local population and have some exciting new clinical staff coming into post e.g. clinical pharmacist and advanced clinical practitioners.

‘The CCG have been reassured by Whitby Group Practice that they are working very hard to minimise any disruption to their services.’

The news comes as one in six GPs have had to turn back patients looking for routine appointments in the past year, as revealed by a Pulse survey last month.

What is the Government doing to boost GP numbers in rural areas?

The Government has increased the scale of this year’s GP trainee ‘golden hello’ scheme, after a promising take-up last year.

The expansion will see 265 trainees across England receiving a £20,000 golden handshake to work in an area struggling with recruitment, up from a planned 200.

The Government said the expansion of the scheme, which will cost it an extra £1.3m, comes as take-up has increased since it launched.

Health minister Steve Brine MP said 86% of these posts were filled in 2016, and 92% filled in 2017.