Scouting for general practitioners

Recruitment problems remain a headache for general practice. Tim Martin looks at national trends and how new ways of thinking are beginning to embed themselves in regional recruitment processes

Where recruitment is concerned it’s safe to assume statistics should be eyed with a degree of caution. For example, reasons for a certain region having
a wonderful GP retention rate or gaining new recruits might be because the region is seen as an ideal place to live rather than practices in the area being exemplary places to work – though, of course, the two needn’t be mutually exclusive. As such, it can be said with some conviction that there are two prominent key recruitment trends in general practice presently.

Crunching the numbers
The first, from Health Education England, indicates that current levels of GP trainee recruitment are in good health with England, Northern Ireland and Wales having fill rates of 90%, 99% and 96% respectively. However – to remain cautious – when these percentages are broken into actual numbers huge variations exist; England’s 90% equates to 2989 trainees, while NI has 84 and Wales 130.

The second, and more worrying, trend relates to academic findings from The Kings Fund. Their May 2016 Understanding Pressures in General Practice report highlights that, ‘after five years working as a GP, only one in 10 new GP trainees plan to be working full time seeing patients in general
practice’. Other findings include the assertion that GPs are retiring earlier and in greater numbers. ‘Between 2009 and 2014, 46% of GPs leaving the profession were under 50; between 2005 and 2014 the proportion of GPs aged between 55 and 64 leaving approximately doubled.’

To provide a broad picture, then, more and more GPs are leaving the profession while new entrants seem increasingly unlikely to prepare themselves
for a life working as full time salaried GPs.

A practice window on to the world
Forgive the somewhat lengthy preamble on the national scale of recruitment problems in primary care but it’s absolutely necessary if only to serve as a reminder that GP recruitment campaigns can no longer work from a set template. Indeed, creative thinking is favoured by Sam Thomson, sales manager at the BMJ, when working with primary care decision-makers. “The things I say to practice managers and GP partners is that gone are the days where you can put on a practice window or application form ‘Friendly practice seeks enthusiastic GP – please send your CV’. It simply does not work like that anymore.” While Sam is involved with several campaigns at any one time he always recommends that practice managers add a unique hook to their advertising plans and tells of a recent example where Scottish practices included surfing opportunities in their recruitment videos.

Sam also suggests that a clear message is needed from both individual practices and regional agencies such as LMCs and CCGs in order to maximise the number of prospective candidates for a GP post. “Together they should sing and shout about all the good things going on in their region, whether it be great schools or cheaper housing or cultural artefacts or sporting options.”

For those who are willing to tear up the old playbook and plan a dynamic campaign for finding suitable candidates hope is at hand. For example, Kieran Sharrock, medical director at Lincolnshire LMC, took this approach to heart when developing a new strategy for the region and member
practices in his charge. “We identified that there was a difficulty in recruiting GPs and we completed some research as to why that was,” he says. “We asked our local Lincolnshire practice managers who they had managed to recruit and who they didn’t manage to recruit based on interviews
they held with prospective candidates. We also gathered data from medical schools and vocational schemes in other parts of the country.” From this research, a recurring theme was uncovered: candidates held a number of misconceptions about Lincolnshire.

Kieran explains some of the more entertaining impressions of the East England county. “When people had heard of Lincolnshire, some thought it was in Scotland. They had heard of Skegness and associated the ‘ness’ part of the word with north of the border. Others said, “Oh it’s just fields and cabbages, isn’t it?”

Negotiating favourable rates
In an effort to create a long-term strategy and effective campaign Kieran reached out to several specialist healthcare recruitment agencies. His endeavours led to a campaign co-ordinated in partnership with BMJ Careers. From a business perspective, it’s clear the decision was a wise one. “Each of the companies I spoke with discussed what they could provide and we decided to go with the BMJ because we felt they offered the best package and would provide us with the most exposure and best value for money,” Kieran says. “If a practice or organisation say that they are going to advertise in partnership with the BMJ for three weeks or longer then it’s going to cost X amount but, because we explained that we would like to take out a contract and advertise for a prolonged period of time, we negotiated favourable rates.”

For practice managers keen to latch on to key tips for better recruitment rather than working alongside a specialist, the lessons Kieran learned along the way are worth considering. “A good photograph of the area is worthwhile. A picture of a surgery isn’t particularly attractive, of course; if you can
put in a nice picture of where GPs will be living, it’s preferable,” he says. “If an advert says, ‘100% QOF points, system one used/good team’ that doesn’t say as much as, ‘Excellent schooling, housing very affordable’ which are more enticing when weighing up a move of this magnitude.”

GP shortages continue to demand that practice managers look at recruitment with a fresh approach and renewed enthusiasm. It seems time spent turning to outdated recruitment methods will be time wasted.

Ron Stewart, recruitment consultant and director of Jobs4Medical, offers some top tips for practice managers using job boards and recruitment agencies

  • Avoid generalised job boards as you may find yourself with applications from time wasters who
    aren’t actually interested in your job.
  • Keep your job ad succinct but don’t miss out any important information. If you’re looking for a GP to head up a team of nurses, clearly state that you’re looking for a candidate with experience of leadership.
  • Take the time to play a role in the recruitment process. Familiarise yourself with candidates so you can ask them relevant questions about their previous work and why they’re applying for the position. This will allow you to make your own first impression and ensure that they’re the best person for the job.
  • Do your research before choosing a recruitment agency. Do they have experience finding candidates for similar roles? Do they have a large number of potential employees on their books with the skills you require? This will not only save you time but, crucially, money.


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