Doctor’s warning over “perfect storm” GP recruitment crisis

Watton Medical Practice.

Watton Medical Practice. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Senior doctors have warned that more health practices will be forced to de-register patients in East Anglia because of a national GP recruitment crisis.

Patients spoke of their anger last month after Watton Medical Practice told 1,500 people that they would have to register with another practice because the surgery was unable to hire two new doctors.

However, fears have been raised that more medical practices in Norfolk will have to de-register some of its patients as a result of a 'perfect storm' with senior GPs retiring early and not enough new blood joining general practice.

Officials from the British Medical Association (BMA) said that since January, Norfolk and Waveney's local medical committee, which covers 120 practices, has advertised 56 vacancies for GPs, with around half of those remaining unfilled.

Tim Morton, a partner at Beccles Medical Practice and chairman of the Norfolk and Waveney Local Medical Committee, said it was a 'certainty' that more surgeries would have to strike patients off their list because of a lack of doctors. He added that GPs were regularly working 11 to 12 hour days and job adverts used to attract up to 50 applicants, but practices would be lucky to get one applicant nowadays.

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'We have a perfect storm of a crisis. We have a predominately mature GP workforce, most are in their 50s and late 50s and they are retiring early because of the pressures of the workload. They would have carried on working to 65, but they say they do not need the hassle. At the other end we have an output from medical schools and GP training schemes who look at the workload and can not cope with it and decide not to commit to a career in general practice.'

'The problem with Watton is that it is having a domino effect. If you have one practice failing to recruit and getting longer waiting times and demoralised workforce, the surrounding practices are overwhelmed as well. Watton is just one example and there are examples of several like that,' he said.

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A spokesman for NHS England - the organisation responsible for commissioning primary care - said they did not know how many GP vacancies there were in the region. However, 36 GPs retired in Norfolk over last two years, according to figures from a Freedom of Information request. Only eight GPs in the whole of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire retired in 2013/14 and 2012/13.

Nationally, there are 451 unfilled vacancies, according to the BMA.

Andrea Patman, head of primary care for NHS England East Anglia, said: 'NHS England is committed to ensuring patients have access to high quality healthcare and believes that general practices in East Anglia continue to offer high quality primary care services to their patients. The area team does however recognise that recruitment of GPs is a national problem. We will continue to work with our GP practices and in close collaboration with the local Clinical Commissioning Groups and Health Education England to help recruit and retain the very best GPs, recognising the opportunities that this area has to offer.'

What are your experiences of primary care in Norfolk? Email

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