The number of family doctors operating in Suffolk is continuing to fall as GP practices feel the bite of a national recruitment crisis – and experts are warning there will be no quick fix.

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Health officials heard yesterday how the pressure is being felt by GPs on the frontline and that it is vital systems are put in place to boost numbers in the county.

There are believed to be a raft of reasons behind the recruitment problem, one of which is that hospital medicine is currently seen as more attractive than general practice to students.

But at a time when people are living longer and are in need of primary care, health bosses have said it is important the trend is rectified.

John Havard, senior partner at Saxmundham Health, said the work of GPs needs to be promoted and that initiatives such as joining up with marketing groups to showcase what Suffolk has to offer can help the situation.

He added: “There is a recruitment crisis, we know that, and we know there is a danger with older GPs leaving that it will leave the younger ones with an even bigger load.

“As GPs we have got to learn about promoting and selling ourselves, because it used to be so popular.

“We have got to sell it and show people this is a very rewarding career. We can’t just expect people to do it.”

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New figures show the average age of GPs working in the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG area is just under 47, but the proportion of practitioners below the age of 35 is just 9%.

The West Suffolk CCG area is faring better, with an average age of just under 45 and 17% of GPs under 35.

On average, however, doctors working in general practices will see about 30 patients a day, in addition to visits, phone calls with patients and administration work.

One of the methods being put into practice to counteract the recruitment issue is upskilling other members of staff and employ those who can carry out some tasks to give doctors more time.

The use of technology and online bookings has also been mooted as a potential help, but the need for personnel is still the most important addition that is needed.

Dr Giles Stevens, a GP and West Suffolk CCG lead for the Haverhill locality, said: “It is very hard work – there is a shortage of GPs nationally and that is biting locally.

“The days are long and difficult and we are under-manned. The bottom line for me is there aren’t enough GPs coming through and that creates a whole range of problems.”

Dr Stevens added that he believes the situation is retrieveable but that it will not happen overnight, given the amount of time it takes to train people.

The issue was discussed yesterday by the county council’s health scrutiny committee following a report by Healthwatch Suffolk into access to GP services. High patient satisfaction rates were also noted during the meeting.

Tony Rollo, chairman of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “It is pleasing and must be noted that, in our ongoing survey regarding patient experiences of GP practices in Suffolk, a majority of people are positive about the overall service provided by practices but it is clear improvements could be made to enhance patient experience in some areas.”