GP vacancy rates are at the highest level ever recorded, with one in six positions currently unfilled, a major Pulse survey has revealed.
Our sister publication Pulse’s annual vacancy survey of 658 GPs found that 15.3% of GP positions are currently empty, up from 12.2% last year, and 11.7% in 2016.
It also showed that the recruitment issues were concentrated on certain practices, with two-thirds of the vacancies reported at practices where there were more than one position unfilled.
GP leaders said that these workforce shortages are ‘placing an intolerable pressure’ on GPs.
The last official figures were published in 2011 and showed a 2.1% vacancy rate. Pulse has run its vacancy survey since 2012, when the level of positions vacant was 4.2%, and it offers the only longitudinal data on the subject.
Inability to recruit and funding shortages have also forced many practices to cut GP positions, relying on non-GP staff and forcing practices to close patient lists, the survey found.
Recent official figures showed that 1,000 GPs have left the workforce since 2015, setting the Government well behind its target to recruit 5,000 GPs by 2020. This caused health secretary Jeremy Hunt to admit that fulfilling the target would be a ‘struggle’.
GPs said that advertising for roles resulted in no applicants and one person noted it had taken 18 months to recruit a partner.
BMA GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The fact that so many surgeries are unable to recruit GPs provides yet more evidence of the scale of the crisis impacting general practice.
‘The Government must prioritise general practice and urgently invest in it to address this growing crisis which is threatening to undermine the foundation on which the wider NHS is built. We cannot allow a situation where patient safety is being compromised by a lack of political action.’
Non- clinical staff vacancies
Practice Management Network co-chair Steve Williams said that many practices has to look at employing locums or using other clinical staff, such as nurses, to respond to the widespread shortage of GPs.
He said that lack of practice staff extends to non-clinical employees too.
Mr Williams added: ‘Some administrative duties are being passed to non-clinical staff to alleviate the work burden, but in fact, they rarely get paid more or are allocated more time to do the work.
‘There are probably about 100,000 non-clinical staff working full or part-time and the same issues regarding retirement and replacing this skill mix applies.
‘I think a lot has to do with the pay structure for non-clinical staff, which is the responsibility of each individual practice. As independent contractors, they are not bound by the Agenda for Change pay scales.’
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.