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Coast and rural communities face GP ‘recruitment crisis’

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Warnings have been made of a recruitment crisis facing GP practices in rural and coastal communities as the Government struggles to deliver on a promise of recruiting thousands of family doctor.

Doctors’ leaders say patients face longer waits for routine appointments due to difficulties finding replacements for retiring GPs and support staff.

With most younger doctors being drawn to big cities, a “north-south” recruitment divide means parts of Yorkshire and Humber are worst affected.

NHS bosses say new training places and investment means they are on target get enough new doctors in place.

But doctors’ leaders say it is failing to make up for rising numbers of GPs leaving the profession.

Latest NHS headcount figures show there were 3,843 GPs working in Yorkshire and Humber in March, down from 3,992 in September 2015.

Nationally, the number of family doctors has fallen by around 1,000.

Dr Mike Holmes, a York GP and Vice Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “On the east coast, right from Scarborough to Bridlington to Grimbsy and North Lincolnshire it is difficult to recruit.

“It’s difficult to say why. For younger doctors, moving out to rural and coastal communities might not appear attractive to them. We see an increase in workloads for GPs. They are under increasing pressure and trying their hardest to meet demand on services.”

The Government’s GP Forward View planned for 5,000 more GPs by 2021.

But former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted he was struggling to deliver the numbers before he left the job and was replaced by Matt Hancock.

Dr Richard Vautrey, a Leeds GP who chairs the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, warned of rising workloads and stress levels for GPs as they struggle to meet demand from patients.

He said: “I think things are still getting worse rather than better at the moment.

“We continue to hear from practices and GPs who are working under huge pressures.

“Even now we are trying to recruit new GPs and healthcare staff and it’s proving very difficult to do that.

Last year in Yorkshire and Humber just 85 per cent of GP trainee places were filled, figures from Health Education England show. Dr Vautrey said: “There is still a north-south divide when it comes to recruitment. We need to support and encourage more doctors to work in Yorkshire and the North of England.

He also warned that a £20bn-a-year funding increase announced by Prime Minister Theresa May would fall short of the extra resources needed.

He said: “It is still a lower level of funding compared to previous Governments.

“While it is welcome that the Government has finally realised they need to address the funding crisis, it will just help us keep the show on the road, rather than deliver the improvements we really want in GP settings.”

The BMA has also criticised a two per cent pay rise for family doctors, backdated to April.

Dr Vautrey said it was not enough attract more GPs to the profession.

He said: “They haven’t put the necessary funding in place to make it attractive enough to recruit enough young doctors to address the work load pressures.

The Department of Health and Social Care said an extra £2.4bn a year would be invested in general practice by 2020-21.

The Government also expanded its Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme to attract trainee GPs to parts of the country where it is hard to recruit.

A spokesman for the Department said: “In Yorkshire 42 places were available in 2016 and 2017 and 43 are available in 2018.

“More than 3,000 GPs have entered training this year, 1,500 new medical school places are being made available by 2019 and NHS England aims to recruit an extra 2,000 overseas doctors in the next three years.

“To improve retention, we have launched the GP Career Plus Scheme, to test a range of ways to offer flexibility and support to experienced GPs at risk of leaving general practice.

“We have also put in place a GP Retention Scheme, offering funding to support doctors who can only work a limited number of sessions in general practice.

“We have made it easier and quicker for qualified doctors to return to general practice through the GP Induction and Refresher Scheme.”

Health Education England said that for the first time, more than 3,000 trainee doctors had been taken on during the first round of recruitment this year.

It was up ten per cent on last year and means the health service is on course to meet a target of 3,250 doctors being accepted onto GP training programmes.

After being appointed as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a £4.5m investment in the so-called “social prescribing” by GPs of non-medical activities like gardening and art.

He replaced Jeremy Hunt, who was made foreign secretary in a reshuffle of Tory cabinet positions.