Doctors don’t want to come to Sunderland because there isn’t enough ‘life’ for them here, say health chiefs

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Plans to address a shortage of GPs in the North East by advertising internationally have brought just two doctors to the region.

Neither of those have been attracted to Sunderland, prompting health chiefs in the city to consider their own bespoke recruitment drive.

But some bosses are still concerned this still will not do enough to address the issues which make potential employees shun Wearside.

“Like it or not, the North East generally is not considered favourable, particularly Sunderland, because of the socio-economic situation,” said Dr Karthik Gellia.

“As much as we can deny it, what GPs complain about is that they don’t have enough ‘life’ in Sunderland.

“There’s a lot of issues, partly that’s the reason for the golden hellos scheme – it’s been successful, we’ve got 19 GPs [because of it].”

Dr Gellia, an executive GP on Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing body, was speaking at last week’s (Thursday, April 25) meeting of the CCG’s Primary Care Commissioning Committee.

According to end of year accounts prepared for the panel, £208,000 was paid out to 14 surgeries in 2018/19 to help attract new doctors through so-called ‘golden hellos’.

A further payout worth £20,000 for a 15th surgery is also expected to be approved soon.

NHS England’s General Practice Forward View has set a target of hiring 2,000 GPs from overseas by 2020.

Under the scheme, recruits can spend up to three months observing the work of a host GP practice before they start treating patients.

But so far this has brought just two family doctors to the whole of the North East and Cumbria region ‘none of which are in Sunderland at present’.

Dr Ian Pattison, the CCG’s clinical chair, said: “I think we’re in a very difficult position, where it’s extremely difficult to recruit GPs in this country, or in other countries.

“People who are willing to be medical migrants can move to countries where they’re much better paid and with better working conditions.

“I think the NHS has its work cut out to attract doctors to work here.

“I suppose the question for us is, because our aim is to deliver for the people of Sunderland is whether we can do a better job ourselves.”

Dr Pattison added he hoped the planned medical school for Sunderland, which is due to open its doors in September, would provide a long term solution to recruitment problems.

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service