Exclusive Around 30% of GP training places across the UK remained unfilled following the first round of recruitment, with the worst-affected areas seeing vacancy rates of up to 65%, Pulse can reveal.
Figures for the first round of recruitment, revealed on the GP National Recruitment Office website, show that more than 60% of positions in the East Midlands and North East of England remain unfilled.
Only London and Northern Ireland have filled all their positions after the first round of recruitment and two more – Kent, Surrey & Sussex and Thames Valley – have said they are likely to have filled their places by now.
Overall, there is a 29% vacancy rate across the UK compared with 8% of places in 2013, the last year figures for this round were available.
There are normally two rounds of GP trainee recruitment, but Health Education England was forced to instigate an unprecedented third round last year following poor take-up rates – a move that is likely to occur again this year.
GP leaders in the worst affected regions have said they think it is unlikely these positions will be filled by August.
It comes after Pulse revealed earlier in the year that applications for GP training had dropped, for the second successive year, by 6%.
This is the latest setback in Health Education England’s attempts to recruit 3,250 GP trainees a year by 2016, a deadline that has already been pushed back a year after application rates tumbled in 2014, and will further heap pressure on GP recruitment.
HEE could not provide a breakdown of the vacancy rates after last year’s round 1 intake but there was a 12% shortfall by the end of the whole recruitment process, despite the unprecedented third round of recruitment, labelled ‘desperate’ by GP leaders
NHS England, along with HEE, the BMA and RCGP recently launched a 10 point plan to tackle GP recruitment along with retaining the existing workforce and coaxing those who have left the profession to return.
But GP leaders say minor changes won’t suffice and a contract overhaul is needed to improve general practice’s stock.
Dr John Ashcroft, an executive officer of Derby and Derbyshire LMC in the hard hit East Midlands, told Pulse the whole situation was ‘depressing’ and that 20 ago he and his wife – both East Midlands alumni – had to fight for places.
He added: ‘We need a new contract, the contract isn’t fit for purpose, they talk about “you need extra doctors”… we keep hearing the talk, but we’re not really seeing anything to really make a difference. That ultimately means money, doesn’t it?
‘Words are cheap, money counts. If they really recognise the importance of general practice, somebody’s got to find some real money to put in there, otherwise it’s going to keep on getting worse.’
Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of the GPC’s education, training & workforce subcommittee, told Pulse: ‘I think it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say the last two years for general practice recruitment haven’t been that great, simple as that.’
‘The approach that Health Education England and NHS England have taken recently… to listen to [the BMA’s] concerns and put measures in place to try and address that has been a welcome change.’
However, he added that these changes had come too late to impact on the 2015 recruitment figures, but that planning would be ‘much better’ next year.
Health Education England said it was unable to comment until the end of the pre-election ‘purdah’ period.