One in six full-time GP roles in the UK are unfilled, a survey suggests (stock image)
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One in six full-time GP roles in the UK are unfilled amid a recruitment ‘nightmare’, a survey suggests.

Doctors have warned the staffing crisis means patients are not be getting the care they need and burnt out GPs are having to ‘pick up the burden’.

A snapshot poll found 405 of 2,361 GP roles in Britain were vacant (17 per cent) — the highest level in at least four years.

Of surgeries with vacancies, 16 per cent had at least two unfilled posts.

Doctors said salaried GPs are leaving the profession or cutting back the number of sessions due to high workloads, and practices are struggling to hire.

Last night a report by the Health Foundation think-tank warned more than a quarter of doctor and nurse posts in GP practices could be vacant within ten years.

The staffing crisis comes after the Government admitted it will likely fail on its manifesto promise of hiring 6,000 more family doctors by 2024. 

One in six full-time GP roles in the UK are unfilled, a survey suggests (stock image)

One in six full-time GP roles in the UK are unfilled, a survey suggests (stock image)

Some 442 GPs responded to the survey, by GP magazine Pulse, which ran from February 25 to March 3. 

Three in 10 practices which responded had one vacancy, while 16 per cent had two and 44 per cent had none. 

The 17 per cent overall vacancy rate was higher than the last two times Pulse carried out the survey – 14 per cent in May 2021 and 15 per cent in July 2018.

One GP, who reported their practice had at least two vacancies, said that salaried GPs are ‘leaving or cutting down on sessions’.

Scotland wants to pinch English GPs 

Scotland will attempt to lure GPs across the border from England, it was revealed today.

Family doctors will be incentivised to swap their surgery for one north of the border as part of a massive recruitment drive.

Scotland wants to boost its family doctor numbers by 15 per cent over the next five years by hiring from ‘other areas of the UK and elsewhere’.

It will do so through an advertising blitz that will focus on ‘the unique attractions of working as a GP in Scotland’ including ‘job satisfaction and lifestyle’.

Scotland’s health secretary Humza Yousaf said any boost to the nation’s GP numbers will create a ‘sustainable service for the future’.

Dr Chris Williams, joint chair of RCGP Scotland, said Scotland is a ‘truly unique place to work as a GP’ with ‘something for everyone’.

But England is grappling a GP crisis of its own. The Government is destined to fail on its manifesto pledge to hire 6,000 more GPs by 2024 and health chiefs have warned half of the current workforce could quit over the next five years.

Surgeries are unable to replace roles because job adverts are receiving ‘no response’ and locums are ‘nearly impossible’ to get, they said.

Another family doctor, who said their practice had three GP roles unfilled, warned that the situation was a ‘nightmare’.

There are around 1,500 fewer fully qualified GPs in England now than there were in 2015. 

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the fingers ‘are worrying’.

He said: ‘If practices have vacancies, but can’t fill them, the care that the people in those roles would be delivering to patients isn’t being delivered.

‘And the rest of the team, who will already be working under significant pressure, has to pick up the burden.

‘Some practices may be able to employ locums to help, but this isn’t a long-term solution to workforce problems, and in some areas it is also difficult to employ locums.’

He warned that patients will not be getting the care they need and already burnt out GPs are having to ‘pick up the burden’.

The ‘intensity and complexity’ of GPs’ workloads is on the rise, while the number of GPs is falling, he added.

Family doctors are now ‘often concerned’ about the knock-on effects that the pressure has on their ability to provide safe patient care.

It comes as the latest GP appointment data shows just 27 per cent of GP appointments in May were with a qualified doctor and face-to-face. 

Overall, 64 per cent of consultations were face-to-face and 50 per cent were with a family doctor.

For comparison, eight in 10 appointments were in-person before the pandemic and 53 per cent were with GPs.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid admitted last year that the Conservatives are behind on their key manifesto pledge of hiring 6,000 more GPs.

There were around 27,000 full-time equivalent GPs in England in December 2021.

Meanwhile, the Health Foundation warned yesterday that the GP crisis is going to get ‘substantially worse’ over the next 10 years.

It estimated family doctor shortages could climb to 10,700 full-time equivalents by 2031, based on current trends, in relation to the number needed to meet the rising care need.

However, if the number quitting due to burnout grows, the shortfall could hit 20,400 – meaning around half of posts would be vacant.

In the best case scenario, the gap could be limited to 3,300 – around a tenth of posts – the Government improved recruitment and retention of family doctors and if more pharmacists and physiotherapists were integrated into practice teams to take on some of their workload.

Meanwhile, the shortfall of practice nurses is expected to grow to 6,400 – over one in four –by 2030/31 at current trends.

The pessimistic scenario places this at close to one in two, or 10,100, while the optimistic scenario is a shortfall of 5,000.

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