DOCTORS’ surgeries in West Somerset are facing an impending crisis as they struggle to recruit new staff with many current GPs approaching retirement.

In West Somerset there are doctors approaching retirement at the Dunster and Porlock Surgery, Minehead’s Irnham Lodge and Harley House surgeries, as well as in Williton.

Dr David Davies, who works at the Dunster and Porlock Surgery, said they had been trying to recruit a new GP for more than a year but had been struggling to find someone who wanted to come to West Somerset to live and work.

“It is difficult. We have been looking for about a year and I know there are similar problems at other surgeries in West Somerset,” Dr Davies said.

“I think once people come here they would be blown away. It is a beautiful place to work and a great place to bring up children.”

Dr Davies said a big part of the problem is that many newly-qualified GPs were opting to work abroad, particularly heading to New Zealand and Australia.

“I don’t know it if is worth looking at ‘golden hellos’, which I believe have been trialled elsewhere, where GPs were paid up to £20,000 to take up long-term posts in rural areas,” he said.

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A survey of more than 2,000 GPs in the South West of England exposed the region’s impending healthcare catastrophe. 

The survey, which was carried out by the University of Exeter, found that two in every five GPs in the South West of England are planning to quit.

Doctors working in the NHS spoke of their increasing workloads, rising stress levels and the problems of recruitment in the survey, while it also found seven out of 10 GPs intend to change their working patterns in a way that would mean less contact with patients, including leaving patient care, taking a career break, or reducing their hours.

Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said he was aware of the problems West Somerset surgeries were facing.

“I know they are struggling in Watchet, Williton and other areas in West Somerset where we have doctors close to retirement or who understandably want to cut back to maybe two or three days a week or retire altogether,” he said.

“Around 30 years ago there was a big recruitment drive for GPs, which was fantastic but does mean a lot of them are retiring at the same time.

It is difficult to know what can be done, we may have to look again at golden handcuffs but that is not a new idea. It is a difficult situation and no-one has the perfect solution.”

Paul Courtney, NHS communications manager for Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “GP Practices in West Somerset are coping with a limited supply of GPs. Practices in West Somerset have found it difficult to recruit GP’s from outside of the West Somerset area. However, they have managed to retain GP’s who have family in the area, as West Somerset is seen as a good place to live and work. 

“Newly qualified nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and doctors can find the area difficult to settle in for themselves and their family due to its rural location. There are very few job opportunities for professionals not working within the health service. 

“Efforts are being made to support older GP and clinical staff who may be close to retirement and want to retire leaving a thriving primary healthcare service in the area.”