THE STRUGGLE to employ general practice doctors across the country continues - and it’s a situation certainly being felt across Somerset.

Doctors are claiming that the government bid to increase GP numbers by 5,000 within three years is falling short, and concerns over the number of family doctors in training who are already considering leaving are also arising.

A new poll by the GP magazine Pulse found that around one in five trainee GPs say they expect to have left UK general practice within five years of completing training.

The survey of 310 training GPs found that 14 per cent of trainees see themselves working abroad within five years of qualification, while two per cent believe they will have left the field of medicine.

A further two per cent said they see themselves in other, non-GP, roles and one per cent said they believed they would change their speciality.

The Royal College of General Practice (RCGP) has published a report, which stated that doctors are yet to see a significant change from the intended boost to numbers by 202.

THE RCGP said the findings sparked fears the profession “could reach breaking point” unless progress on the shake-up was accelerated.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the RCGP, said: “It takes at least three years in speciality training for new doctors to enter the workforce as independent consultant GPs, so while it’s fantastic that more foundation doctors are choosing general practice this year, if more people are leaving the profession than entering it, we’re fighting a losing battle.

“Above all else we need to see efforts stepped up to keep hard working, experienced GPs in the profession, and the best way to do this is to tackle workload pressures and improve the conditions under which all GPs and our teams are working.

“We know we’re only one year into a five-year plan, but GPs are desperate - they really, truly want to deliver the best possible care for patients, but the pressures they are under are unbearable.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, the British Medical Association’s GP committee chairman, said: “Despite the GP workforce shrinking again last year, the Government has continued to promise 5,000 extra GPs to patients. It is time to admit that this pledge is now unachievable.

“In order to create a stable GP workforce, the Government must expand the number of GPs entering the profession, and urgently address the underlying issues, particularly the unsafe workload pressure, behind the recruitment and retention crisis in general practice.”

However, the report said that the Government’s commitment to spend an additional £2.4 billion each year on general practice by 2020/21 is on track.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We recruited the highest number of GP trainees ever in 2016 - but crucially, we are giving GPs the financial backing to support improvements in patient care, with a £2.4 billion increase in funding.”

It was reported by the County Gazette in April that surgeries in the county were facing an impending crisis as they struggled to recruit new doctors.

Dr David Davies told the paper that the Dunster and Porlock Surgery had been struggling to recruit new GPs for more than a year.

“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.

The Somerset Clinical Commission Group said that it is difficult to get newly-qualified medical professionals to settle in the area.

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.”

In Taunton Deane, a similar struggle is being seen at Milverton Surgery.

Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which struck a year-long deal to run the Milverton practice last September, says it now believes the “safest and best way” ahead is to offer services from Lister House, in Wiveliscombe.

The trust has rented the Milverton surgery since the previous partners retired but says it is struggling to recruit doctors, instead employing expensive locums, leading to reduced appointment times.

Writing to patients, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust says problems signing up permanent GPs have led to reduced appointments and concerns over whether one doctor could respond “quickly and safely in an emergency situation”.

The closure of the surgery could lead to villagers having to travel three miles in order to see a doctor.

A meeting took place last night (Wednesday) to allow residents to voice their concerns about the impending closure.

But it appears there is still hope that a solution will be found.

Dr Sue Neville, a West Somerset GP, says she hopes the challenge will lead to exciting solutions which in the longer term could improve long term care.

She said: “My husband, Dr John Higgie, and I have been GP’s in Somerset for more than 20 years, and have had happy and fulfilling careers. We are committed to Primary Care in Somerset, and think it is a wonderful place to work.

“I agree that GP recruitment has been challenging in recent years, but hopefully that challenge will lead to innovation and some exciting solutions which in the longer term will actually improve patient care.

“Recruitment a national problem, which is slowly being recognised by central government. There are a variety of factors impacting on this; selection of applicants for medical training, exposure to primary care at undergraduate level, and experience of primary care early in medical careers. All of this is being addressed in various ways.

“In Somerset, we have the issue of rurality - our younger doctors have trained in university towns, and have friends there , or have partners who are tied to city careers. There is also the factor that we actually need more GP’s simply to replace those retiring - the splitting of daytime from out of hours work , the trend towards portfolio working, and the reasonable and sensible aim to maintain resilience through improved work life balance means that more practitioners are needed.

“In terms of retirement - yes, in our practice, five of our seven doctors are reaching ‘a certain age’, but we are currently planning to continue working for a while - we enjoy it.

“On the bright side, we are able to offer training posts to about 25 new GP’s in Somerset every year. After three years of a mixture of hospital and Primary Care placements we are hopeful that a good proportion of these will opt to stay in Somerset.”