02 February

Close to half of England’s 7,278 GP practices could be operating with an unfilled vacancy.  A BMA survey indicated that 47% of GPs who responded had a current vacancy for a GP at their practice, with 73% of these respondents stating that the vacancy had been unfilled for over six months or more.

The findings suggest that more than 2,400 practices may have a vacancy unfilled for six months or more.

With 900 BMA members taking part in the poll, including 265 GPs, most doctors responding said access to general practice had deteriorated over the past year. 5% indicated it had improved and 23% decided that access had stayed the same, however, an alarming 71% decided that standards had dropped in the past year.

GP vacancies
A similar share of respondents also reported a deterioration in mental health provision and urgent & emergency care over the past year with 71% of hospital doctors reporting rota gaps in their department.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey commented, ‘These levels of GP vacancies are having a major impact on patients as it makes it harder and harder to get an appointment with a practice when they need to be seen and it’s also having a major impact on the remaining practice staff members as they struggle to maintain adequate services to their local population with too few permanent members of the team to deliver this.

‘With too few staff it simply adds additional workload burden to those who remain with the risk that they themselves become overwhelmed and are forced to leave.  Ultimately if this spiral downwards is not addressed it leads to practices closing.

‘Many practices have given up advertising for GPs as they’ve had little or no response to previous attempts to recruit.  Practices are trying to recruit other healthcare professionals instead, such as more nurses or pharmacists, but even this can be difficult in some areas of the country.

Long-term funding
‘What’s needed is a real commitment to long-term recurrent funding for community and general practice services so a clear signal is sent to young doctors and other healthcare professionals that the NHS is really committed to resolving this problem and that the future will be better than it is now.’

An NHS England spokeswoman said: ‘GPs are under real pressure, which underlines the importance of the fact that the NHS is on track to deliver the highest number of GP trainees in its history. What’s more, the latest data shows that more than four in five patients were able to get a GP appointment or speak to someone last time they tried.’

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