Report warns of future shortage of GPs in Essex

Doctor and patient. Library image.

Doctor and patient. Library image. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Health bosses are warning of a looming GP crisis in Essex unless action is taken to recruit more doctors to the role.

A report discussed by county councillors and health chiefs yesterday reveals almost half of GPs are set to retire within the next 15 years.

Figures from NHS England show 46% of GPs are aged 50 or over, while one in every 14 is already aged over-65.

In addition one-quarter of practices are run by a single GP in the county, though the figure in north-east Essex is 18% and in mid-Essex 10%, meaning a number of surgeries could close completely if new doctors are not found.

The potential future shortage is made worse as Essex is already “under-doctored”, with a further 143 GPs needed just to bring the county in line with the national average of patients per doctor, with patients at one-quarter of surgeries waiting more than two weeks for an appointment.

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There are 916 GPs in the Essex County Council area.

A further complication is the county’s growing and ageing population, leading to an expected increase in visits to physicians.

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Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive of Healthwatch Essex, said: “It is worrying to see there is such considerable pressure on primary care.

“For the most part people are satisfied with the care they get from GPs.

“But we must make sure primary care is sustainable in the future and that as we see a reconfiguration of services that primary care is given proper attention as most people’s route into the NHS.”

To target the problem an NHS organisation EQUIP (Education and Quality in Practice), has been tasked with setting up a two-year pilot project due to launch soon called Essex Primary Care Inter-professional Centre (EPIC) to try to recruit more GPs and practice nurses in Essex.

The initiative is being led by the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (NEE CCG).

Sam Hepplewhite, acting chief officer at NEE CCG, said: “All the NHS partners across Essex, including doctors’ organisations, have been working together to create EPIC to attract the best GPs, nurses and other staff to the county.

“The centre will develop and co-ordinate new training and work opportunities so that, for example, a doctor opting to work in Essex can develop their career at the highest level, while providing great service to Essex patients.

“We recognise we are in competition for the best doctors and nurses, and EPIC will give our patients access to excellent staff into the future.

“Health Education England and the local NHS have together produced a video and booklet highlighting the attractions of living and working in the NHS locally to ensure Essex increasingly becomes the county of choice for doctors and nurses.”

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