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GPs ‘struggle to find work as patients left in pain’ – union

Concerns have been raised that GPs are ‘struggling’ to find work (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Concerns have been raised that GPs are ‘struggling’ to find work (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Family doctors have raised concerns they are being “replaced with cheaper staff” as they sounded the alarm over patient safety.

GP surgery staff who are not doctors may not be able to spot signs of serious illnesses, particularly in children, medics said after concerns were made that GPs are “struggling to find work”.

It comes as the British Medical Association (BMA) published a survey of locum GPs that found that many are facing difficulties securing work.

The union said it was “ridiculous” that patients are struggling to access care while there are GPs unable to find employment.

Some 1,610 locum GPs in England were asked about their current working situation and more than eight in 10 (84%) said they had faced difficulties when trying to find work recently while only 16% were content with the amount of work they had been able to secure.

Leading medics have raised concerns about the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme – a £1.4 billion funding pot designed to boost GP practice staff including physician associates and pharmacists, but not GPs or practice nurses.

A doctor
Leading doctors said that it is ‘ridiculous’ that GPs are struggling to find work while patients are facing difficulties in accessing care (Lynne Cameron/PA)

Earlier this week the Royal College of GPs warned that hundreds of GPs have struggled to find work in the last year, with the scheme playing a key part.

A locum GP from Dorset told the BMA: “I can’t even find a job because GPs are being replaced by cheaper staff.

“I’ve explored countless options within the NHS to no avail so I’m taking up GCSE tutoring to make ends meet.

“After nearly 30 years of service, I’ve been driven out of the NHS by a government scheme that blocks general practice from employing general practitioners – it’s maddening.”

Another GP locum from London described how work “dried up overnight”, adding: “The problem with replacing GPs with cheaper alternatives is that what might appear to be a routine condition, particularly in children, may actually turn out to be a serious illness.

“For example, a patient might come into a practice complaining of muscular pain, but only a trained GP can swiftly differentiate between muscular pain and deep vein thrombosis. This is why patients deserve to be seen by GPs.”

It comes amid ongoing debate about the use of physician associates (PA).

As the NHS continues with plans to increase the number PAs in the health service, concerns have been raised that patients are mistaking them for fully-qualified doctors.

PAs have been under increased scrutiny following the death of Emily Chesterton in November 2022. The 30-year-old had been under the impression that she was seeing a GP, but was actually seen twice by a PA who failed on both occasions to spot that her leg pain and breathlessness was a blood clot, which ultimately travelled to her lungs.

The RCGP has called for a halt of recruitment of PAs in general practice until they are regulated.

Commenting on the findings of the new poll, Dr Mark Steggles, BMA sessional GP committee chairman, said: “These shocking results reinforce what many locum GPs are telling us – they cannot get any, or enough work… it leaves us in the ridiculous situation where so many patients are being denied the chance to see a GP, even though we have GPs wanting to work and care for them.

“On the one hand, we have thousands of GPs in England desperate to work more, but being driven into careers outside the NHS. On the other hand, patients in pain, needing care, are waiting record-breaking periods of time to see a GP.

“It’s difficult to comprehend how the NHS – a health service once world-renowned – has reached this point where thousands of highly-skilled doctors are unable to find suitable work within it and patients are suffering as a result.”

Professor Philip Banfield, chairman of BMA council, said: “To have highly-qualified doctors turning to other jobs to earn a wage whilst GP practices cannot meet the demands placed on them and patients waiting weeks for an appointment, shows what a fiasco the NHS has been turned into.”

Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, chairwoman of the BMA’s GP committee for England, called for the next government to find a way to retain GPs currently working in the NHS, adding: “We are in a ridiculous situation where GP practices cannot use government funding to hire GPs. We have made it clear to the government that this needs to change so we can have more GPs working in local practices.”