Surgeries are increasingly relying on support from locum doctors as the gap in the family doctor workforce widens, but many practices are having difficulties finding stand-in medics, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
A new poll of 2,800 GP practices in England found that 46 per cent frequently have trouble finding locum cover and a further 40 per cent report occasional issues.
Regionally more than 80 per cent of practices surveyed reported having issues finding cover.
Meanwhile thousands of junior doctors in England are preparing to go on strike tomorrow – hours after it emerged Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is facing a second legal challenge over a new contract.
Dr Richard Vautrey, a Leeds doctor and deputy chair of the BMA’s GP committee, explained that surgeries in areas like Rotherham, Hull, south Leeds and Bradford are facing serious staffing challenges.
“There is a big recruitment problem within Yorkshire and there are areas within Yorkshire where practices are struggling to get new GPs in,” he said.
“Increasingly when some areas’ practices are struggling to find GPs that means they can’t find enough appointments to meet the needs of patients.”
He said some surgeries are also struggling to fill nursing vacancies as funding for general practice has dropped from 10.5 per cent of the NHS spend to around 7.5 per cent in recent years.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s GP committee chair, said: “The Government needs to begin addressing this crisis and deliver its promised support package for general practice. We need a long-term, well-financed plan to prevent GP services from collapsing.”
The BMA claims there is a “recruitment crisis” gripping general practice – 600 GP trainee places remained unfilled last year – at the same time as a third of GPs are nearing retirement.
Government responded by saying a new deal it has agreed with the BMA will include an extra £220million investment to help ease pressure on the service, while NHS England is increasing investment in the area every year.
A Department of Health spokeswoman added: “We are already seeing an increase in the number of GPs being recruited and we are boosting staff numbers with 10,000 new primary care staff by 2020.”
The junior doctor dispute, meanwhile, rumbles on. Thousands of trainees will take part in a 48-hour ‘emergency care only’ walk-out, staging pickets at major hospitals in Yorkshire, from 8am tomorrow ahead of a “full withdrawal of labour” for nine hours on both April 26 and 27.
It will follow NHS staff campaign group Just Health’s announcement that it plans to challenge the planned August imposition of the junior contract on the grounds that Mr Hunt has no legal right to force the deal on the majority of juniors. The Health Secretary is also facing a legal challenge from the BMA.