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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 10:30 GMT
GP shortage 'worsens'
Doctor and patient
Surgeries cannot fill posts, says the BMA
The shortage of GPs is getting worse, doctors' leaders have warned.

A survey of vacancy rates, published by the British Medical Association on Tuesday, shows the situation has worsened since the government's own survey was published three months ago.

The BMA data, collected in October and November last year, found 3.4% of family doctor posts in England had been vacant for three months or more.

That represents a total of 970 "missing GPs", in England.

Worst affected areas
Greenwich - 16%
Bexley - 13.39%
NE Lincolnshire - 13.13%
More than one in 10 of primary care trusts surveyed had vacancy rates greater than twice the national average.

The worst affected area was Greenwich in London, where 16% of posts had been vacant for over three months.

Bexley and North East Lincolnshire both had vacancy rates of over 13%.

The government survey, which was compiled in March, reported a vacancy rate of 2.7%.

The BMA found vacancy rates in Wales were also higher.

They have risen from 1.8% at the time of the Department of Health's survey to 2.8% in this latest analysis.

Member's concerns

This is the first time the BMA has carried out a survey of vacancies in GP surgeries.

Eighty-nine of the English 304 Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), which oversee general practice care, took part, plus another 20 of the equivalent bodies from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The government is committed to getting more GPs where they are needed most."

Department of Health spokeswoman
A BMA spokeswoman told BBC News Online it carried out the survey because of members' concerns: "We hear about these problems at every meeting of GPs. We wanted to ascertain what the situation actually was."

She said some areas were particularly badly hit.

"There are parts of England where it seems very difficult indeed to fill a vacancy in general practice."

'Less representative'

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said: "We are approaching meltdown in general practice with a dire shortage of family doctors.

"There aren't enough to go round.

"If current trends continue we will see no go areas where it is simply not possible to fill vacancies.

"GPs are demoralised. They are overwhelmed with excessive, and in some cases unsustainable, workload."

Dr Chisholm said the solution lay in the new GP contract, currently being negotiated, which should make general practice more attractive to young doctors, and to encourage existing GPs to stay in practice or return to the profession.

But a Department of Health spokesman said: "There are now more GPs working in the NHS than ever before and more GPs in training than ever before.

"We acknowledge that there is still more to do and the government is committed to getting more GPs where they are needed most.

"Schemes like the 'Golden Hello' payments for new GPs and GPs returning to the NHS, flexible careers, childcare support and additional payments to GPs delaying their retirement will all positively impact on recruitment numbers."

She criticised the BMA's survey, saying: "The data used by the Department to estimate vacancy rates comes directly from GP practices.

"The BMA study takes data from PCTs and previous work has shown that data from this level provides a less representative figure."

She added that the BMA's figures were based on a sample of less than a third of PCTs, whilst the Department's were more detailed and wider ranging, covering 96% of England and Wales.

Last year's survey by the Department of Health showed more posts were taking longer to fill, and the average number of applicants for each post had fallen.

The BMA has said a new GP contract would improve matters for the GPs already practising as well as attracting new ones into the profession.

See also:

28 Jan 03 | Health
19 Nov 02 | Health
03 Oct 02 | Health
09 Jul 02 | Health
03 Jul 02 | BMA Conference
18 Sep 01 | Health
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