Blackpool GPs could be paid up to £20,000-a-year to stay in the job 16 hours a week to help avert a crippling shortage.
Nineteen of 92 family doctors are set to retire in the next five years, while there are already 11 vacancies at 11 of the 18 practices in the town.
Two surgeries – Gorton Street Practice and Ashfield Road Surgery – have been forced to close in the last two years after being unable to replace outgoing practitioners, leaving Blackpool with the fewest number of GPs per 100,000 people in England.
And Glenroyd Medical Centre, which has practices in Bispham and Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, has admitted it is ‘having issues maintaining the services’ within its current boundaries because of a shortage of GPs and rise in patients, documents showed.
One woman told The Gazette this week how her dad was given an emergency referral to see his doctor but later told no appointment was available for several days. After visiting the walk-in centre, he was sent to A&E and told he’d had a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – a mini stroke.
Dr David Wrigley, a senior member of the British Medical Association (BMA) from Blackpool said the national shortage of GPs was a ‘systemic problem which leads all the way back to Whitehall and the politicians who have not invested enough in the health service’.
Warning of the impact on the hospital, walk-in centre, and 111 telephone service, he said: “It’s really difficult to recruit new GPs now, as you have discovered in Blackpool, because of the increasing workload and the government’s refusal to acknowledge this.
“It’s going to get worse. The BMA has time and time again been warning the government about this and telling them to act.”
The GP Retention Scheme would see doctors given up to £20,000 – the same sum offered as a golden handshake to trainee GPs to come and work in Blackpool two years ago – for holding a maximum of four clinical sessions a week, for up to five years.
The national scheme, to prevent doctors from leaving general practice, is aimed at those who are nearing retirement, need greater flexibility at work, or for personal reasons.
None of the 19 GPs coming up to retirement in Blackpool have taken up the offer, resort health bosses said.
It comes as the Royal College of GPs spoke of a ‘relentless’ workload, with a survey of 900 GPs across the UK finding that each deals with 41.5 patients a day, according to GP magazine Pulse.
Dr Mary McCarthy, vice-president of the European Union of General Practitioners and a member of the BMA’s general practitioners committee, said 25 a day was a ‘safe’ number.
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, added: “GPs expect to be busy, and we are making more consultations than ever before as we strive to deliver the best possible care to all our patients who need it – but the workload at the moment is relentless and it’s taking its toll.”
Glenroyd Medical Centre said historically it had six GP partners and five salaried GPs. By October last year, it had three partners left, all approaching retirement, with support from locums and a salaried GP who holds seven sessions.
Documents said: “Despite extensive advertising, the practice has received no interest from qualified clinical staff. The longer term issue for the practice is maintaining services to their existing patients with three GP partners.”
The centre, which has seen a rise in patients since the closure of Gorton Street Practice last July and Ashfield Road Surgery in March 2016, asked commissioners for permission to change the area from which it has to take patients.
The town’s primary care commissioning committee said it would now ‘look at the bigger picture across all practices’.
NHS England said it invested £14.7m in general practice in Lancashire and South Cumbria last year and has already spent £11m this year to ‘support, develop, and increase’ the GP workforce. That includes trying to recruit 140 overseas doctors by 2020/21, and the GP Career Plus scheme, launched last April alongside the retention programme, to allow doctors considering quitting to work more flexibly.
Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group said it was working to lure back GPs who had left the profession or moved abroad in a bid to boost recruitment.
A spokesman added: “The recruitment challenge isn’t new. The geography of the Fylde coast means that it is often a less appealing destination for newly qualified doctors who tend to stay closer to where they graduated or head for inner, urban areas. That’s also the case for other areas of Lancashire and South Cumbria which struggle to recruit GPs too.
“Discussions also continue with local medical schools and education providers to explore new routes into medical careers and how we make sure those considering a medical career consider general practice.
“It isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight as we all know, but great efforts are being made locally and across the wider area.”