Punishing workloads leading to 50-60 hours a week being the norm, ever increasing demands from funding sources, growing patient lists and fewer support resources all contribute to the current GP staffing crisis, which only looks set to get worse unless drastic action is taken to address the issue. There does seem to be regional shortages of GPs, with practices in more deprived areas, and consequently poorer general health amongst the catchment population, making these the hardest of all vacancies to fill; plus there are the Brexit related concerns which could impact on European doctor recruitment.
A shift in working patterns
Current NHS stats reveal that only 31% of general practitioners spend 37.5 hours (or more) at work. The rest, a stunning two-thirds of all (non-locum) GPs work fewer hours in an effort to maintain a healthier work-life balance.
Besides the drop in average hours worked the GP crisis is fuelled by family doctors choosing to retire early, take up work in the private sector, or opt out of full time work to become locums. Meanwhile the population is ageing and requiring more medical care than ever, and fewer young graduates in medicine are choosing to take up GP training.
The official reactions
With a record number of vacant GP posts health ministers are painfully aware of the need to turn things around, and quickly, for every week that passes means waiting times to see a doctor lengthen, piling even more pressure on those still working in the system.
Investment is one part of the rescue solution – although the length of time it will take for the effects to trickle through remains a major concern, and the target of 5,000 new GPs by 2021 seems optimistic to many. Another is to overhaul the typical GP working pattern and create more opportunities for flexible working, which will benefit the NHS.
Taking a cue perhaps from those seeking GP locum jobs via sources such as www.thegplocumagency.co.uk, in Nottinghamshire doctors are being offered the option of building a portfolio career, an attractive proposition which allows the GP plenty of flexibility and means the NHS doesn’t lose experienced practitioners.
Yet another plan is to train up people to work in GP surgeries as physician associates, with the ability to diagnose, perform simple procedures and recommend suitable treatment.