A CHRONIC staff shortage has meant almost a third of GP practices in the North-East have been unable to fill vacancies in the last year, say leading doctors.

The British Medical Association [BMA] has warned that staff shortages mean surgeries across the country are relying on locum staff to plug the gaps in care and keep practices afloat.

In the North-East 30 per cent of practices said they had been unable to fill vacancies within the last 12 months while almost one in five said it had taken between three and six months to find a new doctor.

One in five said they had been able to fill a vacancy within a reasonable time frame while another one in five said they had not had a need to recruit.

The BMA surveyed 3,567 GP partners across England.

Dr Bill Beeby, the BMA’s regional representative, said: “The findings highlight the serious recruitment challenges facing general practice in the North-East.

“Worryingly, just under a third partners in the region said that they have been unable to fill vacancies in the past year and only two in ten said they had no issues filling gaps in their workforce.

“This should serve as an urgent wake up call for this government.”

Nationally, 31 per cent of GP partners surveyed had been unable to fill vacancies in the last 12 months while a further 18 per cent said it takes between three and six months to fill a vacancy. Just under a quarter were able to fill vacancies in a reasonable timeframe.

Around a third of partners who needed to hire locums did so in order to cover long term employment vacancies or to be able to continue to provide a full range of services to patients.

In Yorkshire and Humber 27 per cent of practices had been unable to fill vacancies within a year – the lowest rate in the country.

Around 11 per cent took up to three months to fill a vacancy while 18 per cent took between three and six months.

The BMA survey found a strong relationship between GPs’ workload and the ability of their practice to recruit doctors, with 44 per cent who described their workload as excessive also struggling with recruitment.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA GP committee chair, said: “It is deeply concerning that so many GPs are reporting that their practices effectively have permanent holes in their workforce, which they are unable to fill.

“In addition to this, only a small number of GP practices are operating with no vacancies, while the vast majority of GP services are suffering from constant shortages of GPs.

“It is clear that the crisis is so bad that general practice is being kept afloat by the essential help of locums who are stepping in to provide day to day services to patients.”