AN ageing workforce and no new recruits is continuing to raise concerns for the future of Bolton healthcare.

Health bosses have admitted they face a challenge over the number of doctors based in the community.

The concerns were raised as it is revealed by NHS England that four GP who hold contracts for their practices in Bolton have retired in the past 12 months.

There are 50 practices in Bolton and up to 160 GPs practising in the borough.

Board members of NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) had previously warned that a lack of staff could be a stumbling block in delivering services to the community.

Chairman Dr Wirin Bhatiani has continued to echo these concerns, including the increasing gap between an ageing workforce and new recruits.

He said: "Like many parts of the country, we face a challenge in relation to our GP workforce in Bolton as many of our experienced and skilled GPs approach retirement age.

"Nationally, we have not seen the number of newly trained GPs in recent years that we would have hoped.”

“Here in Bolton, the CCG is working with our local partners to address this issue.

"We need to consider all healthcare professionals, like pharmacists, physiotherapists, mental health workers, and nurse practitioners, and consider carefully how we can use these skill sets to help manage the demands on our GP practices.

"Patients are now beginning to consider nurse practitioners as highly trained and able to help with their problems, similarly we need to start looking at these other health professionals in a similar way."

The CCG confirmed it did not keep an official record of GP retirements or changes in practice.

However The Bolton News was informed that five senior GPs were retiring within the month from practices around the borough, including Westhoughton, Harwood, Breightmet and Stoneclough.

An anonymous source working in Bolton's health service warned the departing numbers may seem small but despite best efforts to advertise, there was a a lack of new recruits or junior doctors willing to stay in vacancies longer than 12 months.

It is feared remaining staff will suffer the consequences as plans are rolled out to extend GP hours and continue to help triage patients in the Royal Bolton Hospital A&E department.

They added: "There is a broadening problem with recruitment and retention of GPS in the town.

"This is going to impact on the quality of care especially with the Government's intention to offer 8am to 8pm services or doctors being told to man A&E.

"It is a concern to people about how the service can be maintained."

Health Education England (HEE), which trains GPs, said it had increased the number of training posts available and more doctors than ever before are entering general practice, with GP training fill rate figures for 2016 at its highest level of 3,019.

It spends nearly £500 million a year on GP training, working with NHS England to provide 5,000 more doctors in general practice by 2020.