GP recruitment problems affecting patients, doctors tell MSPs

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Medical professionals give evidence to Health Committee
Image caption,
Members of Scotland's medical profession give evidence to Holyrood's health committee

Doctors from Scotland's medical profession have told MSPs that GP recruitment problems are starting to affect patients.

The British Medical Association's Dr Alan McDevitt told members of Holyrood's health committee that "crisis is now manifest".

And Dr Miles Mack from the Royal College of General Practitioners said "the truth" needed to be told.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said she recognised the "challenging situation".

Latest figures show the number of GPs working in Scotland has fallen.

The Primary Care Workforce Survey also revealed that one in five practices had at least one vacancy.

Dr McDevitt and Dr Mack were giving evidence alongside Gerry Lawrie, deputy director of workforce, NHS Grampian and Lesley McLay, chief executive of NHS Tayside.

The panel were challenged by committee members on the use of the word "crisis" to describe the current recruitment issues.

Dr Mack said being a general practitioner was "a fantastic job" and he regretted having to talk about his profession in "negative terms", but he added "we have to tell the truth".

MSPs heard that;

  • there was currently a 28% vacancy rate in general practice around Scotland
  • the number of posts that still vacant after six months rose from 42 last year to 80 this year.

Dr McDevitt said: "We are getting clear evidence now of a major recruitment problem.

"In addition to that practices can't obtain locums when they go on holiday, for sickness and maternity - so we have very clear evidence now of a recruitment problem to general practice.

"In terms of determining what the problems are, we are now seeing them very real and they are actually beginning, I think, to affect patients and I think that is when it becomes a crisis when patient care begins to be affected by the numbers of general practitioners we have.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
GP recruitment in Scotland has fallen over the years

"The crisis, the shortage of of GPs, is now manifest and we are working very hard to change the fundamental nature of general practice to make it attractive for both doctors to stay in and to come into as a future career."

The minister, Ms Robison, also gave evidence to the committee.

She was asked by Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton whether the GP profession was facing a crisis.

Ms Robison said: "It is a challenging situation, without a doubt, and I have never shied away from saying so which is why I have spent a lot of my time, in fact since becoming cabinet secretary, I have probably spent more time looking at the issue of the future of primary care, and its importance for helping us to develop a sustainable NHS, then probably any other issue."

She told the committee that the more important issue was what to do about the challenges.

Ms Robison believed it was important to focus on the future.

Image caption,
Shona Robison said she had never shied away from the challenges of primary care

She went on to outline her plan, which included;

  • increasing investment in the primary care fund to £85m over three years
  • increasing GP training places from 300 to 400 a year
  • investing £2m in GP recruitment and retention
  • providing £16m to create more full-time equivalent pharmacists in GP practice
  • creating 250 link workers to work with GPs
  • providing an additional 1,000 paramedics based in local settings
  • giving £20m to provide immediate support to GP and practice staff
  • and "working effectively" with the BMA to produce a new GP contract from 2017.

In her evidence to Tuesday's health committee, NHS Grampian's Ms Lawrie said that the trainee GPs coming through now were not like the trainees "when I started in the NHS".

'Very negative image'

She explained that their expectations and career aspirations were very different.

Ms Lawrie identified an increase in the female workforce and evidence that male GPs were choosing to work part-time.

She added: "The image of a GP, I don't think, is particularly positive.

"When we think how it is portrayed in the media and on the television in particular, in soaps, it is a very negative image and and we don't create an attractive opportunity for people to choose to become a GP."

Dr Mack said the current state of general practice needed to be made clear.

He explained: "These doctors are training to be GPs and if they hear from my college that everything is rosy and there is enough money and the future is sound - yet they are seeing with their own eyes that doctors working 10 or 12 hour days who feel that their ability to work, their ability to provide safe patient care, is being compromised by the level of the workforce - it gives me no credibility.

"It give the college no credibility and it gives none of the solutions that we have come up with the credibility that we have."

Dr Mack believed it was "crucial" to look at the issues and take the right steps.

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