Warning over GP shortages in Leeds affecting patients

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GP leaders in Leeds have warned of a “recruitment crisis” which is causing a shortage of appointments for patients.

Half of GP practices surveyed in Leeds had a doctor vacancy in the past year – and nearly one in five could not fill the job.

Almost a third of practices told GPs’ organisation the Leeds Local Medical Committee (LMC) that they couldn’t offer enough appointments to meet the needs of patients.

Richard Vautrey, assistant medical secretary of Leeds LMC, said: “GPs are hugely frustrated at not being able to meet the growing needs of their patients,” he said. “They know patients are waiting too long.”

The new survey by Leeds LMC asked 41 GP practices, nearly 40 per cent of the total in the city, about their problems with staff recruitment and retention.

Almost 30 per cent expected some of their GPs to leave in the next 12 months and nearly 80 per cent said they were finding it difficult to get a locum doctor to cover shifts.

Dr Vautrey said historically there hadn’t been problems recruiting GPs in Leeds, but a national workforce crisis was having an impact locally, especially in deprived communities.

“There are simply not enough GPs to go around. We are struggling to meet current demand, never mind future demands on services.”

Respondents told of poor responses to adverts and difficulty in retaining doctors, with one practice saying GPs left because of increasing workloads.

The problems are not restricted to doctors, with almost half of practices having a practice nurse vacancy in the last year and over 40 per cent short of nurse appointments.

“It’s no wonder that growing numbers of patients are struggling to get a timely appointment despite the hard work of GPs and their staff to cope with increasing demand,” Dr Vautrey added.

He said that spending on GP services had fallen from 11.5 per cent of NHS funding in 2006 to 7.5 per cent now, and that young doctors were not keen to go into general practice.

But he welcomed a £1.2bn investment in primary care facilities announced by Chancellor George Osborne in the Autumn Statement.

“There are many practices which want to take on extra doctors but don’t have the space,” he said.

“Practice premises are a fundamental part of the problem and it’s good that the Government have finally listened to us, but this will take time to tackle.”

Dr Vautrey said that efforts to cut pressure on hospitals would require “significant expansion” in GP and community services.

He added: “There is an urgent need for significant and sustained investment in core practice funding and for the Government to talk up and value general practice, so that practices not only have the resources to take on more GPs and nurses but that there is an increase in the number of doctors and nurses choosing general practice as a career.”

* Nearly half of patients in A&E units in Leeds had gone straight there without seeking other medical help because of waits to get GP appointments, it was revealed earlier this year.

Research by patient watchdog Healthwatch Leeds found 40 per cent of patients going straight to A&E at Leeds General Infirmary or St James’s Hospital because they couldn’t see their GP the same day or because the average wait for a consultation was two weeks – and this was too long.

Healthwatch Leeds called for the system of urgent care to be simplified so people could more easily find out about alternatives to emergency units, or possibly different healthcare options being housed on one site.

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