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Difficulty in recruiting GPs is a major health crisis says doctor

PUBLISHED: 10:55 28 November 2014 | UPDATED: 10:55 28 November 2014

Archant

A leading GP has told how Norfolk and Waveney is facing “a major health crisis” as the area struggles to recruit enough doctors for its surgeries.

‘This is a crisis’

Dr Tim Morton, chairman of the Norfolk and Waveney Local Medical Committee, said: “This is a crisis that is hitting and it’s going to get worse.

“I represent 124 practices in Norfolk and Waveney and most are suffering.”

His practice at Beccles is a well-regarded training practice with 20,000 patients, but is four full-time GPs short and he said another 20 practices are in a similar situation.

He said: “Actually we are managing but we are working 12-hour days and that’s unsustainable.”

When the practice advertised for GPs in the British Medical Journal for five weeks it had no responses. Dr Morton said: “This is the national response as well. “I talk to fellow chairmen around the country and it’s exactly the same.

“Not only can we not recruit and have not made general practice attractive enough for young doctors, younger doctors are leaving early because they are burnt out.”

While the problem is nationwide, the issue of NHS recruitment has come under scrutiny following Watton Medical Practice’s decision to de-register 1,5000 patients.

A Breckland District Council scrutiny report this summer found there were 50 GP vacancies in Norfolk, which represented an overall 10pc shortfall.

Yesterday, Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee quizzed health bosses about the issue and were told by Norfolk and Waveney Local Medical Committee chairman Dr Tim Morton that “we have got a major health crisis”.

The pressure being put on surgeries by large housebuilding schemes in communities across Norfolk and Waveney was raised as a concern, as GPs say they are often only consulted late into the planning stages, and Dr Morton said the construction of 
large new care homes could significantly add to local GP workloads.

Why is it so hard to recruit GPs? Here are a few of the reasons raised at the meeting:

• General practice is not attractive to medical students

• Many GPs own their practice premises and the burden of this can put off doctors from becoming partners

• A rise in part-time GPs as doctors choose to pursue other roles and as female GPs take time off for families

• A rise in doctors choosing to work solely as locum GPs

• Norfolk needs to be marketed better as a place to live and work

• More investment in primary care is needed

• Medical schools focus more on training in hospitals rather than in general practice

• Are the right sort of prospective medical students, who are interested in becoming a GP, being chosen?

• Doctors are put off by negative publicity about GPs and a “blame culture”

• Reducing average income for GPs and changing to pension rules encouraging some to retire early

He said: “The GPs premises are a huge issue and it’s compounding the issue. Most young GPs look at the financial burden of providing premises and walk a mile. That’s why we have very few GPs coming in.”

Dr Mark Sanderson, of NHS England’s East Anglia Area Team and who works as a Cambridgeshire GP, said: “Many trainees want to be locums, which means it’s harder to get good doctors to work in your practice in a substantive position.”

James Elliott, of the Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group and the Strategic Resilience Group for Central Norfolk, said he believed Norfolk’s stable GP workforce in the past had helped to keep emergency admissions at hospitals low, but now the pressure at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital was “huge”.

While the committee acknowledged workforce planning is ultimately the responsibility of Health Education England at a national level, members were urged to see if there were steps that could be taken locally to improve the situation – for example, seeing if councils could support local practices by helping to fund adverts to attract GPs to the area as a place to live and work.

Ross Collett, head of the Norfolk and Suffolk Workforce Partnership for Health Education East of England, said one option was to try to set up a GP training programme which gave doctors the chance to experience different areas of work in an attempt to develop and retain GPs.

Do you have a health story? Contact Tom Bristow on 01603 772419 or email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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