GP shortages in Suffolk sends locum bills soaring as agencies charge £800 a day

Patient talking with doctor

Patient talking with doctor - Credit:

Doctors locum agencies are charging up to £800 per day for cover work in Suffolk after general practices reported a “crisis” in recruitment in the county.

Surgeries in Suffolk have highlighted significant staff shortages as newly-qualified medics choose other lines of health work leaving a void when senior GPs reach retirement age.

The problem is said to be felt most acutely in Ipswich, where many practices have reported long-term vacancies they cannot fill.

But all over the county, there is a growing reliance on locums, which are used to fill the vacuum, despite the large agency fees advertised online at sites such as

Simon Rudland, who is a GP at Stowhealth in Stowmarket, said some of the hourly rates were way above what the smaller practices could afford and had already forced some to close.

“We’ve seen it happen across the country and there are examples of it everywhere,” he added. “It’s a massive issue.”

Dr Rudland said the staffing shortfall started with medical training, which seemed to favour careers outside of general practice.

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The Suffolk GP Federation, for which Dr Rudland is a non-executive director, is trying to challenge that perception, he said, by showing how “fabulous” such careers could be.

“I think we’ve got a strong GP Federation in Suffolk and we’ve got a wonderful opportunity to be addressing the training experience for young doctors who come to the county,” he added.

John Havard, a GP at Saxmundham Health, agreed there was a national “crisis” in recruitment, but suggested it could be alleviated by focusing on how rewarding the “cradle to the grave” aspect of general practice was.

“We need to get a lot more interest in the whole tapestry of general practice, which is as much an art as it is a science,” he added.

Suffolk GP Federation chairman Paul Driscoll said another strategy to target the recruitment shortfall was to encourage the more senior doctors to work beyond the minimum retirement age.

Around 40% of Suffolk GPs will reach retirement age in the next five years, but Dr Driscoll says many could be encouraged to stay on part-time if the associated administrative “headaches” were removed.

“I’m particularly interested in that,” he said. “If we can keep them for just a few more years that’s a lot of highly experienced doctors we could be retaining and it would be incredibly helpful in addressing the short term issue.”

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter, who is also a qualified doctor, said Suffolk was “lucky in terms of the quality of GP services provided” and was in a better position than many other counties.

He praised the work of the Suffolk GP Federation and also highlighted the 5,000 extra GPs that were being trained nationally between now and 2020, as part of a government initiative, which he said would provide further help.

Andrea Patman, head of primary care (east) at NHS England, which is responsible for commissioning GPs, said : “There is a national shortage of qualified GPs, with more doctors retiring than are completing their training, which has led to challenges around GP recruitment and retention in some city and rural areas.

“There are national plans to address these issues and practices continue to working closely with NHS England, Local Medical Committees and Health Education England to improve access for patients on a local level.

“While we work to address these challenges, it’s important that we employ locums to bridge the gap and ensure that patients can continue to have access to local high-quality GP services.”