The GP shortage that pretty much all practice managers will have experienced in some form or another during their careers has been described as the "biggest challenge facing the NHS since its formation". As there's no miracle cure out there and no one person can fix the problem overnight, when a practice needs to recruit the problem often falls into the already bulging in-tray of the practice manager. So what can you do to successfully recruit a new GP?
Earlier this month Carol Charles, the practice manager at Park Surgery in Great Yarmouth, was praised by the CQC for her role in the proactive approach to GP recruitment implemented at the surgery. The recruitment plan helped the practice achieve an outstanding rating, so what was it that the inspectors liked so much?
Vision and strategy
The CQC inspectors praised the fact that a five-year business plan was in place, which included a supporting action plan demonstrating a commitment to continuous learning, development and recruitment. For example, succession and professional development plans for the GPs and practice manager were in place and well-managed.
"The practice involvement in training medical students and GP registrar training had not only secured development and recruitment of new GPs and GP partners at the practice, but had been constructive in securing GP recruitment to other practices in the area," the report read.
Moreover, staff said they felt respected, valued and supported, particularly by the partners and the practice manager at the practice, which aided both staff retention and recruitment – reputation really does matter.
While long term planning is one thing, what about if you need to recruit in the short term? Recruiting salaried GPs might be easier than looking for partners, so perhaps it's time to consider changing your practice structure?
Val Hempsey, practice manager of Bridges Medical Practice in Gateshead, was quoted in the media last year outlining her solution to the problem. While she is aware of the recruitment problem in her area, the practice has no problem recruiting, partly down to the unusual structure – she is the only partner – and therefore needs to only recruit salaried GPs.
Despite this model working for this practice, Val admits that her doctors are up still against it. As a result some of her salaried doctors don't want to work full-time in the practice, protecting their work-life balance. As has been well-publicised, the GP workload is constantly increasing, not just because the number of patients are on the rise but because of the admin burden practice staff are faced with too.
Prevention is, of course, better than cure, so perhaps it's time to consider a more flexible approach to working. GPs, being in short supply, hold the upper hand when it comes to recruitment and many are opting for part-time hours. Could a kind of job share work for you? Are two GPs better than one when it comes to filling the hours? This isn't ideal and comes with some major pitfalls, but might be the best of a bad situation.
Don't hang around
Another tip that a practice manager gave us is to not hang around when recruiting. As doctors tend to apply to several surgeries, don't waste time when it comes to interviews. "As soon I get an application I pick up the phone and call them," is the advice. "I'll invite them in informally for a look around the practice and let them ask their questions and just generally have a chat. This works well as it breaks the ice, gets the GP onside and is far more effective than scheduling interviews in four weeks' time. We've definitely benefitted from this approach and believe that speed is everything."
The power of advertising
Another tip we've picked up talking to PMs is to make sure that any advert is appealing. In a crowded market full of practices recruiting, there's plenty of competition. Go big or invest in a premium listing – it's worth the extra expenditure in the long run – and talk up the plus points of your practice. Is your feedback five-star? Have you had an outstanding CQC rating? You need to sell your practice as much as the job.
Here are some more handy hints to remember when producing an ad for your practice:
Where are you?
It may sound obvious but don't forget your practice name and address or location at the top of your advert is really important as it helps create a good first impression and makes it very clear where the job is.
Give a brief overview of your practice to allow candidates to imagine what it might be like to work there. Remember to sell your pros!
What are you looking for?
Be specific about any additional skills required for the role, for example, if an interest in teaching is required as you are a training practice. Too many ads use generic terms such as 'dedicated' and 'hard-working' – who will admit to being uncommitted and lazy?!
What you can offer
As well as salary and benefits, talk up the type of working environment on offer, for example, a practice that values a good work-life balance, flexible working or a supportive working environment.
Many good adverts fail to include a closing date, which can make it difficult for candidates to know whether it's worth applying or not. You may also find that your advert is listed after the closing date and you continue to receive applications for a vacancy that no longer exists.
How to apply
Be clear about what you want info you need candidates to supply. Some practices like a handwritten covering letter, others are happy to receive applications by email. Asking for preferred working hours here could help you work out a flexible work programme.