A CASH injection designed to help under-strain GP practices in the North-East recruit talented doctors from abroad has been described as “too little, too late”.

Eight Clinical Commissioning Groups will share just over £2m from NHS England, including Durham Dales Easington and Sedgefield, North Durham and Darlington.

Reacting to the announcement, Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said the Government still needed to do more to create a “sustainable, long term basis on which to remedy the huge workforce problems threatening to overwhelm GP services”.

Loading article content

And Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson said the money was a “drop in the ocean” and not going to solve the problem of GP shortages.

According to latest data from NHS Digital in June there were 1,455 full-time equivalent GP practitioners in the North-East.

But the BMA said numbers in England were barely showing a “disappointing” one per cent increase over the last year, despite a pledge by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2015 to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

Doctors’ leaders have described GP services as being on the “brink of collapse”, amid record practice closures.

A survey last year by the BMA found that 30 per cent of practices in the North-East had been unable to fill vacancies at all when they came along. The Yorkshire figure was 27 per cent.

Meanwhile 62 per cent of North-East GPs quizzed for the survey said their workload was excessive and at times prevented them from providing quality and safe care to patients.

During a recent debate in Parliament Mr Wilson cited the example of the Trimdon Village practice in his constituency which was forced to close temporarily because of a shortage of GPs

He said: “This is too little, too late. The crisis is now.

“Any additional funding is welcome, but £2m for the North-East of England is a drop in the ocean. It is not going to solve the problem.

“The shortage of GPs and the ability to recruit them isn’t the fault of the GP practices, it is something that needs to be addressed [by the Government] and not just by acquiring GPs from overseas.

“There needs to be a broader strategy about how we attract people into general practice, especially in rural areas.”

Mr Wilson added that the danger was of a “failure in the system” with the potential for mistakes by hard-pressed GPs and patients in need of healthcare being overlooked for appointments.

Dr Vautrey said: “Far too many GPs are quitting owing to the overworked and under-funded environment they are expected to work in, while medical graduates are turning their backs on general practice for the same reasons.”

NHS England said while GP training places were increasing year-on-year, more GPs were retiring.

It said historic under investment in general practice was being reversed with an extra £2.4bn a year of funding, while a national recruitment centre was being set up which would work with recruitment providers to identify potential overseas doctors.

They would need to pass stringent tests, including an industry-standard English language test, before being employed.

Jonathan Slade, deputy medical director for NHS England Cumbria and the North East said: “Overseas doctors provide a valuable contribution to the NHS, especially in general practice where they have a strong track record of providing first-class patient care.”

NHS Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCG, which currently has between 15 to 20 unfilled GP vacancies, welcomed the £2m funding.

In 2015 it launched an incentivised scheme inviting applicants from across the UK to apply for salaried GPs posts in local practices which has recruited about 18 additional GPs.

A statement said: “We recognise the importance of continuing to attract highly qualified GPs to our region and are keenly aware of issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of GPs.”