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    What has happened to the GP job market?

    By David Murphy

    GPs, and in particular, GP vacancies have had their fair share of media attention in recent months. Something, somewhere seems out-of-kilt; whilst we are constantly reminded of Jeremy Hunt’s failed pledge to recruit 5000 extra doctors when in reality the number of FTE GPs has steadily been on the decline – with particular emphasis on Partner numbers.

    Medical equipment with title 'Where are all the GP jobs?'

    Where does the issue lie?

    More recent news has focused on increasingly large numbers of GPs who seem to be struggling to find work. Pulse recently released an article titled “Not enough GPs? Thousands of us are now unemployed”. The article itself was quite interesting, with cynical references of practices employing ‘cheaper’ allied healthcare instead of GPs, and general reference to a shortage of vacancies.

    What was perhaps more insightful than the article was the comments left by GPs in response – once you filtered through those proclaiming everyone should move to x exotic destination where everything is better – it became clear that there is a definite battle to define the party line of where exactly the issue lies.

    ARRS staff and Allied Health roles

    There is a lot of finger pointing; greedy locums, greedy partners, under-qualified ARRS staff, and one GP who suspects they earn ¾ of an electricians salary as a Locum GP. That aside, all of this feels like a distraction from the real issue of underfunding in primary care.

    It also feels like there is some quite damaging division occurring between GPs and AHPs and how their roles operate – particularly around the regulation of Physician Associates.

    Overall, there seems to be more noise from those clinicians outside of substantive posts rather than salaried doctors looking to make a move. As the locum market has been so buoyant for so long it becomes harder to identify feast and famine, in particular the risk – stability rather than clinical – that usually accompanies locum or contract roles simply hasn’t been there meaning the feast appears more ordinary.

    A close up of a stethoscope with some files

    The shift in the job market

    From a recruitment consultants’ perspective, you achieve quite an interesting angle on the topic. The current trend was largely predictable, having understood where the GP job market was 4 years ago pre-pandemic, then through the pandemic to present day. What is immediately evident is that there has been a definite shift in the jobs market.

    It seems very much like an upward pressure with Locum GPs moving into partnership or salaried roles – there has definitely been an enormous rise in the number of Locum GPs enquiring about these positions at the very least. This has made recruitment more congested and far more competitive for candidates than it has ever been. This highlights a reduction in the availability of regular locum work, and ties in with the anecdotal feedback around the number of locums struggling to find regular and long term posts.

    As an agency, we have experienced this before; it’s very similar to mid-2020 – the number of advertised vacancies was rock-bottom, practices trimmed down on their locum-usage, and everything was largely dealt with remotely. Similarly to mid-2020, rhetoric around the lack of locum-work or ‘jobs’ creeps into conversations about salaried roles when the two markets are linked, but very different.

    Diminishing locum market

    Whilst ARRS funded positions have definitely helped ease the pressure in certain areas of general practice, it seems unfair to suggest this is responsible for the diminishing locum market – the trope of cheaper staff seems to get a lot of air time at the moment.

    There seems to be several factors contributing to this, and having spoken to a number of my own recruiting clients, it seems to be one small part of the puzzle – increased expenditure due to inflation, higher utilities, increases in minimum and living wages for non-clinical staff alongside unfunded clinical salary increases have hit practices’ finances hard.

    What several practices have alluded to is long-term locum usage being financially inviable – with this workload now more often being absorbed by the partners. Interestingly, several of the practices I’m working whilst acknowledging locum reductions, are simultaneously continuing with the process of recruiting a salaried doctor(s). This is where the topic is quite interesting, as an organisation we will routinely be appointing for between 2-300+ roles nationally at any one point. This figure is currently accurate in what many are viewing as somewhat of a crisis in the jobs market.

    We recently put some data together assembled independently showing the number of advertised GP vacancies from independent practices (i.e. not advertised via an agency). As you can see, the number of roles being advertised to date has been creeping down since October 2021, but remains reassuringly close to pre-pandemic levels.

    There are definitely still jobs out there, and there are certainly still practices looking for salaried doctors. The roles which people are applying for, especially in more urban areas, do seem more competitive, which in any recruitment market isn’t unhealthy, it just doesn’t allow for complacency.

    In summary, I would describe the situation as marginally less vacancies available, but a perceptible increase in the number of people applying for these roles. Applications need to be good and people need to highlight their skills in interview.

    The future of the job market

    Finally, it’s worth noting that there have been and will continue to be changes in the market, currently this is most acutely affecting GPs relocating, newly qualified doctors and locum doctors – those where demand is more immediate. For the two former, our recommendation is to start the process as early as possible. For the latter, the move to salaried needs to be a carefully considered one. The expectations and demands of a salaried GP, as most will be well-aware, is very different, and moving into a role like that needs to be done in a considered way.

    If I had a crystal ball, I would suggest the locum market will and is changing quite drastically, and I know some practices will welcome the change in favour of continuity – that doesn’t make it any less jarring for those who have built their life around the flexibility and remuneration of being a Locum GP. I think the dust will settle and the locum market will re-balance, but I’m not entirely confident it is going to look the way it has for the last 2-3 years.

    In summary, the GP job market has definitely shifted, the root of which seems to be a move away from the dependency on long-term locums – we aren’t talking about the odd day here and there – it seems to be driven by the demand increasingly high locum rates, financial restraints in the surgery, and the ability of AHP to relieve rather than replace some pressure.

    Person smiling at desk

    Would you like help finding your next role?

    With all that said, there are some fantastic roles available which you can contact us about. Whether it be partnership, salaried or even shorter maternity cover opportunities, we will likely have options to talk you through – these can be found here.

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