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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

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GPs’ staffing fear: ‘someone will die’

A GP has given a stark warning – “we are going to kill someone” – if a local and national shortage of doctors is not addressed.

By Gillian Ellison

Copeland MP Jamie Reed revealed the cry for help after being approached by a local GP practice.

“There is no point in trying to soften the message, this is word for word what I was told,” said Mr Reed.

He told Whitehaven Health Group on Friday that the unnamed Copeland practice had thousands of patients but was facing a shortage of doctors.

It echoes a national warning this week in which doctors say a recruitment crisis has left surgeries with too few staff.

In some of these cases, patients are said to be being struck off by GPs who say they can no longer cope with spiralling numbers. This is not said to be happening locally.

National doctors’ leaders say the lack of GPs means they cannot provide care that is safe and of high quality. And the British Medical Association (BMA) conference yesterday warned the government that GP services across the country are at breaking point, saying they provide “conveyor belt care at breakneck speed”.

Dr David Rogers, Whitehaven GP and medical director for the Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, said there were issues surrounding GP recruitment both locally and nationally.

“There are over 450 GP training places that are not filled across the country,” said Dr Rogers, who is aware of the local practice facing difficulties. “A practice has highlighted concerns – because of staff issues – that they are really under pressure and the potential for serious incidents as a result of that pressure. They haven’t got as many doctors as they have had and they are struggling to recruit.”

The local practice said despite local and national advertising it had been unable to recruit and wanted the MP to be aware of the countrywide recruitment problems to see if anything could be done at national level to make rural vacancies more attractive.

It told The Whitehaven News: “The practice continues to provide a full service of excellent patient-centred care. Steps are already in place to make sure that we optimise the skills of the clinical staff resulting in better access to our diverse services for patients. There is already a new clinical triage system (most urgent cases dealt with first) to ensure that our resources are optimised in the most effective way. We believe these changes are a response to difficult times and are innovative in their own right.”

Dr Rogers also said that people should be encouraged to talk to their local pharmacist, or book an appointment with a nurse rather than always assuming they need to see a GP.

“There isn’t a pool of staff that we can parachute in,” he said, adding that most other practices will also have experienced difficulties.

“We have agreed to look at how we change recruitment. The biggest risk in the system is recruitment, if you haven’t got the people, you can’t do the job,” he added.

He said help was also being given to the practice from Cumbria Learning and Improvement Collaborative (CLIC) and that there had been discussions with the locality primary care team and area team.

It follows last week’s Whitehaven News which revealed the staffing ‘crisis’ in West Cumberland Hospital’s A&E department this summer unless gaps in recruitment can be filled. The Copeland MP described the situation as “absolute chaos”.

Hospital chief Ann Farrar has written to health trusts across the north asking for help with medical staffing in order to maintain services. It is still unclear what will happen if vacancies cannot be filled. Health chiefs are looking at a more joined up recruitment process for all local health jobs instead of trusts working in isolation.

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