DOCTORS say there is a “workforce crisis” among GPs on Wearside and the rest of the North East.
In a statement, Local Medical Committees (LMCs) in the region, including Sunderland’s, say they are increasingly concerned about the recruitment and retention of new doctors.
Among the signatories is Dr Roger Ford, who is chairman of Sunderland LMC.
The committees argue that surveys undertaken in different areas across Tyne and Wear have all shown the same problem, with 34 per cent of practices having difficulty in recruiting GPs and 71 per cent of GPs thinking about early retirement.
The surveys show that about 36 per cent of GPs in their 50s plan to retire in the next three to five years, and that they do not see any immediate prospect of them being replaced.
Recent statistics show that there has been a fall of almost 15 per cent in the number of GPs working in Sunderland, compared to a fall of almost 10 per cent across the North East.
The LMCs’ letter read: “Patients complain bitterly that they cannot get an appointment to see their GP.
“This is getting worse and will continue to worsen in the near future, as there is a workforce crisis within general practice now.
“This crisis, which has been predicted for a while, is already upon us, as evidenced by two independent surveys sponsored by the Department of Health show that we are already in a crisis.”
The letter added: “From start to finish it takes about 10 years to train GPs, so the problems have to be addressed now.
“This is vital as general practice takes on more complex patients, more patients move from hospital to care in the community and also all the other things general practices do, such as commissioning, it is essential therefore that plans are made, as a matter of urgency, regarding investment within general practice to attract GPs back again.
“The onus must be upon NHS England and local CCGs to work with the Local Medical Committees to look at some new ways of working and investing in general practice now.
“Indeed just looking after the present workforce would be a start as the area team and CCGs have refused to fund a well-evidenced scheme (London Practitioner Health Programme) for GPs with health problems.
“This is a disgrace in our view.”
Bosses at NHS England say they have recognised that there is a shortage of GPs but insist they have been working with universities to attract newly qualified doctors to the region.
Dr Mike Prentice, medical director for NHS England in Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear said: “Our local GP practices are working extremely hard to provide a good service to their patients.
“The demands on general practice have increased and GPs in the North East have risen to the challenge.
“We know that patient survey results for North east GPs are among the best in the country for access to services. It is true that there are national shortages of qualified GPs, with more doctors retiring than are completing their training.
“This has led to difficulties in recruiting in many areas of the country including the North East and we have worked with Newcastle University Medical School and Health Education North East to attract newly qualified doctors to the region by stressing the benefits of living and working in this part of the county and the excellent training opportunities available.”