Call for action as GP numbers fall in Scotland

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The number of GPs working in Scotland has fallen and one in five practices has a vacancy, according to official statistics.

A new survey found that 90 fewer full-time family doctors were working in Scotland in 2015, compared to 2013.

Labour accused the Scottish government of creating the "biggest crisis in family doctors for a generation".

Health Minister Shona Robison announced £2m worth of funding to improve GP recruitment and retention.

The main findings of the The Primary Care Workforce Survey were:

  • A total 3,645 whole-time equivalent GPs worked in Scotland in 2015 - 2% fewer than in 2013;
  • The number of practices reporting a GP vacancy doubled between 2013 and 2015;
  • Half of the vacancies reported on 31 August 2015 had been vacant for more than six months;
  • More than a third of GPs working in Scottish general practice are over 50.

The Royal College of General Practioners (RCGP Scotland) said the results showed that 830 extra GPs were now required to bring nationwide coverage levels up to 2009 standards.

And Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the British Medical Association's (BMA) Scottish GP committee, said the survey "illustrates the extent of the problem currently facing primary care".

He warned: "Without commitment to substantial new funding and staff, the general practice we all need and value, may not survive."

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Dr McDevitt, a GP in Clydebank, said: "General practice is facing some of its toughest challenges, with workload and patient demand at unprecedented levels.

"Our members across the country are telling us of the rising pressure they are facing and the difficulties they are having trying to recruit to vacant posts. This is simply not sustainable."

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour's health spokesman, said the survey showed that Scotland's GP crisis was worsening.

"All across Scotland families are losing out because there aren't enough doctors available," he said. "That's simply not good enough.

"We can't just have another promise to train more GPs at some point in the future. We have a crisis in GP services now that the SNP health secretary must recognise and address.

"This failure is adding further pressure to primary care and also acute services like A&E."

The Scottish Conservative's shadow health secretary, Donald Cameron, said: "The Scottish government has been told for many years about the dwindling number of GPs. Yet this report shows these warnings have been ignored.

"As a result, patients are paying the price, appointments are hard to come by and those GPs left are feeling overstretched."

'Sustainable services'

Health Secretary Shona Robison admitted that there "remain challenges" in recruiting and retaining doctors to general practice.

She announced a £2m investment for a series of "innovative" initiatives to tackle the problem.

They include the development of a locum pool of retired GPs in Lothian and a recruitment programme led by RCGP Scotland.

Ms Robison said: "As the Primary Care Workforce Survey published today shows, there still remain challenges in recruiting and retaining doctors to work in general practice.

"While Scotland continues to have the highest number of GPs per patient in the UK, we still need to act now to redesign the way care is provided in the community to ensure these services are sustainable in the future.

"That means transforming primary care and GP services - increasing the role that other health professionals play in delivering care and making it much more of a team approach, allowing GPs to focus on those patients specifically in need of their expertise."

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