‘140 GPs applied for my job, now we can’t attract one application in three months’ - retiring GP
- Credit: Ian Burt
A retiring GP looks back on 30 years of treating patients in Norfolk - but warns 'we are being asked to do the impossible'.
He joined his surgery 30 years ago after fighting off huge competition, but leaves at a time when GPs challenges have never been greater.
Simon Hibberd, 59, is calling time on his career after three decades of treating patients at his North Elmham practice, during which he has seen a 'massive' change in general practice.
And while he speaks with much fondness about his time at the surgery, he believes GPs are being 'asked to do the impossible' in the face of growing demand from patients with increasingly complex needs.
Becoming a GP
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It was after seeing a thirty-something patient die of a heart attack that Dr Hibberd decided a career change.
The Bath-born doctor was working as a registrar at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, specialising in endocrinology, but became perturbed at seeing young adults die from conditions as a result of unhealthy lifestyles.
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'That patient was so young and there was nothing we could do, but if he had stopped smoking and hadn't just kept eating chips then it might have been different,' he recalls.
Dr Hibberd wanted to work with more preventative medicine and became a qualified GP in 1988.
'Back then being a GP was an attractive job,' Dr Hibberd says.
'Hospital doctors are experts in diseases whereas the GPs are experts in their patients.
'Ill patients value continuity.'
After qualifying he received two job offers on the same day, but opted to settle in North Elmham instead of Winchester.
Life at the surgery
Dr Hibberd has certainly kept himself busy at the practice, having played a leading role in developing new services to benefit local patients.
During his time he has overseen the opening of the nurse-led Swanton Morley Surgery, and his practice hosted ultrasound services from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and voluntary services from Age UK and Relate.
He helped establish a health and social care model in the Dereham area that includes social workers, community nurses, a community geriatrician, and therapists - and he encouraged the practice to set up Breckland Care at Home.
He also oversaw the surgery achieving the 'Quality Practice Award' twice (2004 and 2009) - the highest award for quality given by the Royal College of GPs.
All in all he has enjoyed life in Norfolk, having also found time to bring up three children with his wife Christine in Horningtoft.
What does the future hold for GPs?
Prime Minister Theresa May has enraged many doctors by suggesting they must do more to increase their opening hours amid rising waiting times for patients seeking appointments.
And asked how he feels about the current government's rhetoric on GPs - a wincing Dr Hibberd responds with a word that is best not repeated in print.
He was so incensed by Mrs May's reiteration to this newspaper on Monday that surgeries must open longer that he wrote to his MP George Freeman in protest.
He believes the current demands by the government are 'undeliverable' based on the resources and workforce available.
'If you have a budget for a Renault Twingo, which I drive, you don't say you can buy a Bentley,' he says.
'We're being asked to do the impossible.'
When he started his job Dr Hibberd was one of four full-time partners, assisted by two part-time nurses.
'When I applied there were 140 applicants,' Dr Hibberd said.
'Recently we spent three months without getting a single application from an appropriate person for a GP vacancy.'
Now the surgery consists of just one full-time GP and four part-time doctors, helped by nurse practitioners, mental healthcare workers, and a pharmacist.
And the pressures of attracting new GPs come at a time when patients need help for increasingly complex conditions.
'When I started we rarely saw 80-year olds, but the population is much older now,' he says.
'My son is going to be a GP and he will be doing something very different to me.'
But for all the challenges facing GPs Dr Hibberd says treating and getting to know his patients has been a privilege. 'I will miss the long standing relationships with patients and the support of the staff,' he finishes with.
Staff at practices give their thanks
The partners at Elmham and Swanton Morley Surgeries have paid tribute to Simon Hibberd following his many years of service. Judith Wood, the group practice manager, said: 'Dr Hibberd has overseen key changes at Elmham Surgery.
'Dr Hibberd has established a reputation as a strong advocate for high quality patient care and an integrated approach to services with community colleagues and social services.
'We hope patients, staff and colleagues across Norfolk will join us in wishing Dr Hibberd well and hope he enjoys a long, healthy, and fun retirement.'
Dr Hibberd was also the chairman of the council of members of South Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group, after many years of serving on committees in Dereham and other local NHS organisations.
The surgery saw three GPs depart in the same week at the start of 2016.
As a result it introduced a nurse-led service to help meet the needs of its 9,500 patients.
Fall in number of full-time GPs concerns medical union
GP leaders have warned that the 'crisis' facing general practice is set to worsen as new figures showed a drop in the number of GPs in England –despite government pledges to expand the workforce by 5,000.
The latest report from NHS Digital shows a fall in the number of full-time GPs by nearly 100, while overall there has been no real increase in the number of GPs working in GP practices.
The Conservative government pledged in its 2015 manifesto to secure 5,000 more GPs by 2020.
Dr Richard Vautrey, the British Medical Association's GP committee deputy chair, said: 'These figures clearly demonstrate that the crisis in general practice is getting worse, not better.
'GP practices across England are struggling to provide enough appointments because they do not have the GPs to see the sheer number of patients.
'It all the more important that NHS England and the government step up the speed of delivery of their commitments to invest in general practice and expand the wider workforce.'
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