It probably feels as though recruitment is worse now than it ever was.
But, general practice being what it is, there have been plenty of recruitment crises through the ages. (And don’t forget to click on the pictures to expand!)
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This 1961 piece says the first decade of the NHS (1948-1958) was ‘characterised by a surplus of doctors’, but ‘this situation is in the process of being reversed’.
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Later in the year, the ‘Dissector’ suggests that the number of vacancies in the BMJ show that, as he puts it (it was always ‘he’ in 1960s Pulse), ‘Practice applicants are below demand’.
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There were plus sides to this, of course – as we pointed out the following year, GPs’ scarcity put them in a ‘strong position’.
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Fast forward a few years and we report in 1970 on ‘GP manpower in low gear’, leading to a ‘growing reliance on foreign doctors’. Of course, this is nothing like these days – back then, the NHS could actually attract overseas doctors.
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Things are still not getting any better in 1981. ‘More GPs are needed,’ said a report from MPs. This is especially so because of the move for GPs to help with the hospital service, and preventative medicine. This is a great help to the current Pulse team, of course, because if reporters ever miss a deadline, they can just submit this story. Again. And again.
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But, a mere year later, it looks like things were picking up. It revealed that in 1981, there had been success in attracting record numbers – 826 in all (Messrs Hunt and Hancock look wistfully on).
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However, there are always losers in these scenarios. Spare a moment for Dr Parat Jit Singh who, in the same month, was featured on the front page of Pulse because of his 400 job applications – with no success. (Dr Jit Singh – if you are reading this, please get in touch, as we know of a few thousand practices looking for a GP now).
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At the start of the 1990s, things were glowing in GP land, and it wasn’t just the lava lamps and glowsticks. A report showed that the number of patients per GP was 12% lower than a decade earlier.
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But, as seems to increasingly be the case, two years later and we see that a ‘recruitment crisis is looming in general practice’. Trainee numbers are down due to poor pay and the increasing business ethics involved in general practice. Interestingly, the former trainee representative to the RCGP is quoted – a Dr Sarah Jarvis, who later became one of the most prominent media doctors around.
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And so it came to pass. In 1995, the crisis showed ‘no sign of abatement’.
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An editorial three years later rightly points out that focusing on the recruitment crisis is probably a better way for the BMA to be successful in increasing pay – and probably not before time either.
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That’s not to say there were not solutions. One, which seemed eminently sensible, was to recruit more EU doctors. Maybe we can think about that now?
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And another involved incentives for partnerships. Though that will probably never catch on.