GP shortfall ‘to hit crisis point in next five years’

Hundreds of new doctors are needed. Picture: Getty
Hundreds of new doctors are needed. Picture: Getty
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A LOTHIAN doctor has warned of a “catastrophic” shortfall in GP numbers over the next five years as new figures reveal that 915 doctors will be needed across Scotland by 2020.

As Edinburgh’s population is expected to soar from 487,500 to more than 525,000 in the next five years, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland has painted a picture of the spiralling recruitment crisis affecting general practice.

Residents have complained about lengthy waiting times for appointments, including the absence of a permanent GP in Ratho which has left locals waiting weeks to be seen or being forced to travel to Wester Hailes for treatment when the locum doctors are away.

Dr Johnstone Shaw, a GP at Eskbridge Medical Practice in Musselburgh, said: “I think it is absolutely a crisis in Lothian. It is catastrophic.

“There are positions in practices around Edinburgh which have vacancies they are just not able to fill. They are propping themselves up and surviving but they will not be able to survive much longer.”

Soaring stress levels and unmanageable workloads are discouraging young doctors from entering the GP profession, and pushing older doctors to retire early, he said.

He said bureaucracy is also making it difficult to complete consultations in the allotted time, along with the rise in elderly patients who are presenting with more complex needs.

Dr Shaw, who has worked as a GP for more than 30 years, said: “GPs are trying to do their best for patients but they haven’t got the resources. When it goes well it is one of the most fulfilling jobs to do. But sadly, that isn’t the case currently.”

New figures from RCGP Scotland published today reveal 915 new GPs will be needed to regain and maintain the coverage per head enjoyed in 2009, if the Scottish population increases at the highest estimate of predicted growth. If growth were to be at its lower predicted rate, 563 more GPs will be needed.

Dr Miles Mack, chair of RCGP Scotland, said: “There is clearly a desperate need for all Scottish politicians to put general practice at the front of their thinking and announcements and to emulate the commitments for England that political leaders there have given regarding sourcing and funding a much larger GP workforce.”

A third of Scots were unable to book an appointment with their GP within the Scottish Government’s 48-hour target, a new ComRes poll found, while 28 per cent of Scottish people could not book an appointment within a week.

The survey also demonstrated that 73 per cent of Scots believe that financial incentives should be provided to attract doctors to understaffed areas.

Health Secretary Shona ­Robison said the number of GPs in Scotland was the highest on record, having risen by 6.9 per cent to nearly 5000.

She said: “This government will continue to go on supporting and sustaining Scottish General Practice.

“For example, the recently agreed GP contract aims to give the profession stability over the next three years – reducing bureaucracy and allowing doctors to spend more time with patients.

“And we will continue to find innovative solutions to GP recruitment and retention challenges.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com