A BBC investigation has revealed a chronic shortage of GPs across the country with the number of unfilled GP posts quadrupling over the last three years.
The BBC Inside Out ComRes survey of more than 1,000 UK GPs, found 56% of doctors expected to retire or leave the profession before the age of 60.
Junior doctors are avoiding what they see as an unglamorous career and surgeries are struggling to cope with ever-increasing workloads.
As demand for GP services continues to balloon, health practitioners and out-of-hours services are being inundated by patients seeking appointments.
Amongst a host of worrying examples reported across the country, the study revealed that after opening its phone lines at 8:00AM, a surgery in Whitehaven filled all of its 49 appointments within just 12 minutes.
Out-of-hours doctor services in the North of England are taking 3,000 calls a week from patients who are unable to book GP appointments during the working week.
In Carlisle, 20,000 patients are without a GP as one in three surgeries are struggling to function with unfilled doctor’s vacancies, heaping extra pressure on existing GPs in the area.
Responding to the results, the Health Secretary said the UK Government was committed to tackling GP recruitment problems by implementing a new programme designed to encourage doctors to return to general practice.
According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, the west of England currently needs 25% more GPs by 2020 to meet demand.
The continuing shortage of GPs, which is forcing many practices to close, is being exacerbated by the number of students opting against choosing GP practice as a speciality.
In 2013, only 20% of the country’s medical students chose to work in general practice after their foundation training despite a national target of 50% by 2016.
Results show that it is both the pressure of the role and the perception of GP practice as a “second rate” career choice that was dissuading so many students from choosing to become GPs.
General practice simply isn’t getting the funding, staff and resources it needs. We have no shortage of medical students in the UK and the government needs to go the extra mile in providing incentives to ensure they choose to become GPs.
If we are to reverse this trend for mounting GP shortages, HM Government needs to attract more trainees among medical graduates and inject more money into sustaining our GP services.
Stephen Jones is a Senior Clinical and Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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