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GP shortages revealed in report

PUBLISHED: 09:42 29 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:13 24 February 2010

SUFFOLK is facing a crisis in recruiting doctors to work full time in surgeries, with some parts of the county recording well over twice the national average for vacancy rates.

SUFFOLK is facing a crisis in recruiting doctors to work full time in surgeries, with some parts of the county recording well over twice the national average for vacancy rates.

A survey by the BMA published yesterday revealed that three out of the five Primary Care Trusts (PCT) in the county have had problems filling employment gaps, leaving thousands of patients having to be seen by increasingly overstretched GPs.

It revealed that three out of the five Primary Care Trusts (PCT) in the county have had severe problems in filling employment gaps, meaning that thousands more patients are having to be seen by increasingly overstretched GPs.

The survey, conducted between October and November last year, shows that Suffolk Coastal PCT had six vacancies unfilled for over three months – 9.52% of the total number of GPs, and was the seventh highest GP vacancy area in England.

Waveney PCT also had six posts unfilled (7.79%) and Suffolk West PCT had eight unfilled (6.25%).

The national average of three-month vacancy rates in England is 3.4%.

Every family doctor ideally looks after around 1,800 patients, which need to be shared out among current GPs if there is a vacant post.

This means that doctors throughout the country are having to cope with thousands more patients on their lists and a doctor from Lowestoft, one of the worst affected areas in Suffolk, has warned that this is having a severe impact of GPs and patients.

Dr Fergal O'Driscoll, who runs a surgery on Westwood Avenue, Lowestoft, said: "The inevitable impact of the shortage is that waiting lists are going to increase significantly and there is going to be pressure on GPs when they actually get round to seeing their patients.

"The consultation they give is not going to be as comprehensive and doctors will be fractious because they will be under more stress.

"This will be reflected by patients who will be more annoyed because they have to wait longer. All in all it is a very unsatisfactory situation."

Nationally, the BMA feel that general practice is "approaching melt-down". Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA's General Practitioners Committee, said: "We are approaching melt-down in general practice with a dire shortage of family doctors.

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

Across Suffolk, PCTs have admitted that they are being hampered by the national shortage but that vacancies have reduced since the BMA survey was conducted.

A spokesman for Waveney PCT said: "Since the BMA's report was undertaken, Waveney PCT has continued its recruitment programme and now has only 3.75 vacancies from a total of 74 posts.

"Although PCT is affected by the national GP shortage, everyone within the PCT area has access to primary care services."

These sentiments were echoed by Suffolk West PCT, where a spokesman said that they had reduced long-term vacancies from seven to two.

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal PCT added: "Although the national GP shortage is reflected within the PCT, we have been able to attract GPs to salaried positions and we continue with our recruitment efforts."

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