PATIENTS are being hit by a critical shortage of GPs as surgeries face closure across the county.

Every day an estimated 10,000 people contact their family doctor in Dorset but hundreds are being forced to wait weeks to get an appointment due to a GP recruitment crisis.

Top doctors have issued a stark warning that services are 'stretched to breaking point' with the situation the ‘worst ever seen’.

The Daily Echo can today reveal the extent of the recruitment crisis that has led to:

*More than 18 GP vacancies advertised in the county alone on a new website called Doorway to Dorset set up specifically to promote the area.

*Shelley Manor Medical Centre and Holdenhurst Road Surgery have announced they will merge in January to ensure they are ‘in a strong position to meet the demands of a changing and challenged NHS system’

*Bransgore Surgery has revealed temporary closures ‘due to lack of clinical staff’.

*Marine and Oakridge Partnership in Southbourne issued a warning online, saying it is unable to meet ‘increasingly high demand for appointments at a time when the number of doctors has reduced substantially’.

*And as previously reported Barn Surgery, in Christchurch, has been placed in special measures by CQC inspectors due to ‘staff shortages’.

Now under plans being drawn up by the NHS, GP surgeries could close to ‘allow more services to be consistently delivered across the county for more hours of the day and days of the week.’

The British Medical Association (BMA) told the Daily Echo more than 300 GP practices in England, including 30 in southern England revealed in a recent survey they were facing closure in the near future.

A spokesman, said: “General practice is buckling from a combination of rising patient demand, falling resources and staff shortages. This is leaving many practices in areas like Dorset stretched to breaking point and struggling to deliver even basic services to the public, such as enough appointments.

“The government must implement its promised extra investment in GP services or thousands of patients could soon be left without access to a local GP practice.”

Dr Peter Perkins, of Southbourne Surgery, is among the senior partners advertising for GPs.

He said: “It's a disaster. The recruitment crisis amongst GPs is real and placing surgeries under an increasing and intolerable pressure to meet patient demands.

“One or two local practices are going to be losing two GPs next year but finding new doctors and nurses who want to join local practices is a nightmare.

“The situation is the worst I have ever seen it at a time when our list size is dramatically increasing. People are waiting two or three weeks for an appointment which is unacceptable, but what can you do? There are simply not enough resources. In my 37 years as a local GP, I've never before had to take part of the consultation time to apologise for waiting times.

"Despite the challenges, like many GPs, I still love what I do. It is a privilege to do the job and that's why we need things to change.

"It is the most rewarding job but external pressures including meeting increasingly impossible targets, attempting to reduce hospital referrals and admissions while improving early diagnosis of cancer, managing obesity and a host of other conditions are all desperately under resourced."

A sustainability and transformation plan (STP) for Dorset, which forms part of a package of NHS reforms across the country, proposes ‘integrated teams' to 'deliver more and better services from a fewer number of sites than the 13 community hospitals with beds and 135 primary care sites that currently operate across Dorset.’ These 135 sites include 98 GP practices.

NHS England, which needs to find £22bn in efficiency savings by 2020-21 said reorganising local services is 'essential' to improve patient care but has promised no changes will be made without local engagement and where required, consultation.

Dr Nigel Watson, New Forest GP and chief executive of Wessex Local Medical Committees, said: “Dorset is one of the nicest parts of England to live. But despite this there is a real problem with recruitment and retention of GPs. We are losing GPs faster than we can recruit them. GPs care about their patients, their staff and the population they serve – so there is considerable concern about the current state.

“They also feel the focus is always on the hospitals yet 90 per cent of patient contacts occur in primary care yet general practice receives 7.7 per cent of the budget compared to the hospital’s 50 per cent.

“If general practice fails, the rest of the NHS will fail – not my words but those of Simon Stevens, the CEO of the NHS. GPs fear for their future and that is why we need to address the issues of workload and recruitment and retention because the alternatives are not worth thinking about.”

NHS Dorset CCG said it is working with practices across the county to help with recruitment, retention and the support of staff to ensure local people have access to the services they need.

It has established a Primary Care Workforce Centre with Health Education England (Wessex) and Bournemouth University, and a new postgraduate scheme will be launched in Dorset this autumn.

Measures also include recruiting more clinical pharmacists and mental health therapists to become part of ‘multi-skilled teams’ in primary care to ‘take some of the pressure off GPs.’

Dr Forbes Watson, chair NHS Dorset CCG and local GP, said: “Nationally fewer doctors than are needed have been trained and fewer are choosing to work with the NHS which has a knock on effect for those entering general practice and becoming GPs. Our strategy for primary care in Dorset will respond to the GP Forward View published by NHS England in April this year and which recognises a range of challenges, including that of recruitment and retention. The document signals the future of general practice will be for surgeries to work together to maintain high quality services and achieve improved access.”

*Have you been affected by the GP recruitment crisis? Contact Tara Russell on or call 01202 411344.