Credit: This story was first seen on The Telegraph
Waiting times to see a GP are set to soar amid a six-fold rise in vacancies for family doctors, new figures suggest.
The statistics show record shortages of family doctors, which have already fuelled rising waiting lists and surgery closures across the country, The Telegraph reports.
The findings from Pulse magazine shows 12.2% of positions are currently vacant – an increase from 2.1 per cent in 2011.
And almost one in five of GPs polled said they had given up trying to recruit a doctor in the last year because it had proved impossible.
Latest figures show the number of patients waiting at least a week for an appointment has risen from 13.8% to 19.3% in three years.
Last month figures showed record numbers of GP practices closing, following a rise in the number of doctors retiring early ahead of a tax clampdown on pension pots.
More than 250,000 patients have been “displaced” by surgery closures in the last year – a five-fold rise since 2013.
The exodus follows a series of tax clampdowns on bumper pensions, which have seen a sharp rise in the number of GPs retiring early, and reducing their tax burden.
Since 2012, the cap on what savers can amass without being taxed has dropped from £1.8 million to £1 million. Meanwhile, the numbers retiring or going part-time is failing to be matched by that of new recruits. In the last year, the total number of family doctors has fallen by 400, despite targets to boost numbers by 5,000 amid rising demand.
The shortages come despite a national recruitment drive, and average earning of £100,000 a year for GP partners.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: “We know that practices across the country are finding it really difficult to recruit GPs to fill vacant posts, and the degree to which this problem has increased over the last six years is staggering.”
“In the most severe cases, not being able to recruit has forced practices to close, and this can be a devastating experience for the patients and staff affected, and the wider NHS,” she said.
The GP has previously warned that some patients are facing waits of up to four weeks for an appointment, threatening lives.
In some areas, surgeries are now refusing to book all but same-day appointments.
In others, practices have drawn up plans to offer just 13 appointments a day for urgent cases.
Liz McAnulty, chair of the Patients Association, said the new figures, from a poll of 860 GPs, were “highly concerning”.
“We call for safe, compassionate, person-centred care, and delivering it will plainly be impossible without a sufficient workforce. Soaring GP vacancy rates are a significant warning sign that we may increasingly struggle to deliver the care that patients need.”
Rising numbers of existing GPs are choosing to go part-time, with many citing “burnout” from increasing numbers of consultations per day as a reason to work fewer days.
In just five years, the number of patient consultations has risen by 15%, while the numbers waiting to see a GP have risen sharply. Seventy per cent of female GPs and 28% of male family doctors now work part-time, and nine in 10 trainees intend to do so, or to combine GP work with other roles.
Last week the Conservative Party committed to increasing the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020.
An NHS England spokesman said: “This miniature survey of fewer than one in ten GP practices is statistically incapable of giving an accurate national picture on GP posts, and what’s more the survey response rate was even lower than last year which further invalidates any inferences about annual trends.”