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'Fragile' GP services in South Holland are struggling to meet demand posed by complex patients with just 49 doctors in district surgeries

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“Fragile” GP services are struggling to meet the demand posed by complex patients with fewer doctors.

South Holland practices have just 49 full time equivalent (FTE) GPs looking after almost 94,000 patients - as figures released by the Nuffield Trust show Lincolnshire has one of the lowest numbers of GPs.

Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group says there are 435,000 FTE doctors in in the county which works out to be 54 per 100,000 - slightly less than that the national average of 56 per 100,000.

GP surgeries in South Holland are facing the issue of caring for complex patients with fewer doctors Credit: istock/megaflopp (57188014)
GP surgeries in South Holland are facing the issue of caring for complex patients with fewer doctors Credit: istock/megaflopp (57188014)

The organisation, which commissions services from GPs and hospitals, is working to recruit more doctors and hopes the creation of Lincoln Medical School will help.

Patient champion Healthwatch Lincolnshire says it is aware that the number of clinical staff working in the county’s practices is ‘lower than desired’.

Chief Executive Sarah Fletcher said: “Our local GP practices have been aware for a long time that their services are fragile, with patient numbers rising, and more complex cases being presented, we know they are very concerned and doing what they can to help improve the situation.

“Healthwatch is aware there are a lot of frustrations out there, patients are telling us that they want more face-to-face appointments and to be able to get through on the telephone to the reception and speak to someone, the problem is if there is not the staff to deal with the level of increase in demand our GP practices are facing, then this becomes a perpetual problem.”

Figures released by Nuffield Trust showed that Lincolnshire has some of the lowest numbers of GPs in the country.

The county has 435 FTE doctors - which works out to be 54 per 100,000 patients - although places such as Hull and Brighton have less than 50 per 100,000. The national average is 56 per 100,000.

Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group says it is undertaking a range of actions in a bid to attract more GPs but added that the county’s doctors have faced a 20% increase in activity over the last two years.

Ms Fletcher said: “Healthwatch Lincolnshire is aware that the number of GPs and other clinical staff working from our county’s 85 GP practices is lower than desired. This has been not only a South Holland but Lincolnshire and national problem for a long time.

“The impact of this on local residents is being felt, something that Healthwatch is hearing about every day. From difficulties getting through on the telephone or making an appointment to see a GP face to face, through to rumours of possible practice closures if GP recruitment doesn’t resolve itself, is all very concerning.”

Ms Fletcher said that there has been a lot of effort into recruitment drives, which has included looking aboard.

She added that overseas recruitment takes a long time and that every other county in the UK is going to the same sources.

Ms Fletcher said: “Although we love our county - and as I know first-hand that living in South Holland is just great - sadly Lincolnshire doesn’t always have the same ‘offer and appeal’ that places like Manchester, Nottingham, London or even just across our borders Cambridge does.

“The new Lincoln Medical School is a fantastic initiative and such a great opportunity for Lincolnshire, where we can offer local young people a chance to learn and then stay and work in our county.

“However, due to the length of training required (and quite rightly) I suspect it will be several years before areas like South Holland really see the benefit of GP numbers increasing.”

Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said that there are fewer GPs nationally and that officials are looking at new ways to recruit.

A spokesman said: “Often graduate GPs will settle around where they went to university, obviously the Lincoln Medical School will now help Lincolnshire gain that advantage.

“Traditionally recruitment has been by individual GP practices. Lincolnshire is exploring with Primary Care Networks on how recruitment can be done on a county-wide basis to gain critical mass benefit.

“Taking GP practice based appointments and online consultation activity together, Lincolnshire GPs have seen a 20% increase in activity in two years. This does not include the COVID vaccinations they carried out.”

The county says that it has increased its trainee GP numbers by 46% since 2019 and runs Leadership Fellowships which attracts doctors.

Lincolnshire has a First5 GPs Group which will now support doctors in their first 10 years of training and provides support for those settling in the county.

The county’s Local Medical Committee (LMC), First5 and the Lincolnshire Training Hub is holding an event to introduce GPs in their final year to practices with vacancies.

The CCG has commissioned a flexible staff bank to support practices with vacancies - and is working with Primary Care networks to to develop a recruitment hub for the county.

It has also commissioned a practice system support and a virtual GP service pilot to provide short-term help to practices managing patient’s requests for appointments to help reduce pressure. The county also provides training support with visa licences and a GP retainer scheme.

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