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Practice managers must ‘spot the triggers’ as GP numbers struggle to meet demand

by Jess Hacker
7 May 2021

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Practice managers must be able to spot the triggers that could prompt a GP to consider leaving a practice, practice managers have said, as new figures show only marginal increases in the GP and non-clinical workforce.

Data from NHS Digital, published 6 May, revealed that only 111 fully-qualified FTE GPs joined the health service in England between March 2020 and March 2021: an increase of just 0.4% to a total of 28,096.

Similarly, the number of full-time administrative and non-clinical staff rose by 1.6% to 70,003 across the same period.

In response to the NHS Digital figures, the Institute for General Practice Management (IGPM) told Management in Practice that managers must be alert to recognising and preventing triggers which might lead to a staff member handing in their notice.

Nicola Davies, IGPM co-founder and practice manager at the Roseland Surgeries in Cornwall, said: ‘If a GP, or somebody in your workforce, has set their mind on leaving, there is not an awful lot you can do about it at that point.’

‘Can you spot the triggers ahead of that happening?’ she added.

For example, if a receptionist is struggling with a four-hour shift on reception, managers should consider consulting their rota and splitting shifts into smaller blocks, she said.

‘We as practice managers are adaptable,’ she added. ‘We look at what problems we have in our workforce: what can we do; how can we help?’

Ms Davies also said she does not think that the increase non-GP clinical staff will fill the gap left by those leaving the health service, commenting that: ‘I think we are heading for a really difficult time over the next couple of years.’

GP workforce not growing quickly enough

Responding to the figures, the British Medical Association (BMA) said that the GP workforce is not growing quickly enough to cope with current or future demand.

A recent BMA survey found that more than half of respondents working in primary care said they plan to work fewer hours in the next year, with more than a third (36%) deciding to leave the health service altogether.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee executive team workforce lead, said: ‘We know that much of this is linked to personal wellbeing – doctors across the NHS have been pushed to their limits this past year, with many struggling to get the respite they need following the demands of the pandemic.

‘For some, this has led to them becoming unwell and feeling disillusioned with a job they once loved.’

Dr Kasaraneni added: ‘The bottom line is that the GP workforce is simply not growing quickly enough to cope with current or future demand – something the BMA has long been calling to be addressed, both recently and pre-pandemic.’

Meanwhile, the number of practice staff and GPs who requested advice from the Medical Defence Union (MDU) on resignation increased by 45% from 2019/20 to 2020/21.

Six healthcare bodies recently warned the Prime Minister that the NHS risks entering a cycle of workforce shortages without further investment.