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How our patients helped us attract three new GPs to our practice

Like many GP practices around the country, 18 months ago we found ourselves in the difficult position of having to reduce the service we offered because we no longer had the staff. We lost two of five partners through retirement, reducing our capacity by half. We tried to recruit new doctors through the usual channels but with no success. This was most likely down to our isolated location; working here can involve a lengthy commute. At the same time our premises were designated unfit for purpose and we had to move into the outpatients department of the local community hospital.

Yet the ongoing recruitment problem meant we also had to pull out of providing care to inpatients, which was a key part of keeping the community hospital running. As the only practice in town serving 8,500 patients, the community was incensed at the loss of services and they started an action group, which turned our fortunes on their head. Here are my tips for practices looking to solve similar problems.

1 Use videos and social media to spread the message

After patients realised the problems we were having, the Millom Health Action Group was formed and to do more to attract new GPs to the town. With the help of two volunteer residents they made a unique recruitment video, which used 12 children at the local primary school to tell the outside world all the fantastic reasons to live and work in the town.

GPs from the surgery took part in the video. It was posted on social media and received 5,000 hits in the first week. It encouraged people to apply and we now have three new GPs, are covering 34 of the 40 sessions we had previously and when our trainee qualifies next month we will be back to a full complement of staff.

The video just won the Local Community Initiative of the Year award at the UK Public Sector Communication Awards. With hindsight it was a great idea and perhaps we as GPs could have done even more to help sell the area. But at the time we were swimming hard to avoid drowning.

If I were going through the process again, I’d advise that you use all the help you can get – see if the local NHS trusts, who have more manpower and expertise in social media can help. Make sure you have the back up – our website really needs updating but it’s not a job at the top of the list – and we could have been more prepared for the attention it attracted.