Comment: The problem is only going to get worse

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The family doctor is a crucial part of our any local community. The working life of a GP might have changed dramatically since the days of Dr Finlay’s Casebook, but the role remains the same. Their job is simple – to be there in our neighbourhood as a first port of call when we are unwell. Yet increasingly they are unable to do that job effectively.

Earlier this week, we told how some patients are being forced to wait as long as four weeks for a pre-booked appointment with their GP. Today, we reveal that one in six surgeries has been forced to turn away new patients.

That doesn’t mean people are being left without a family doctor. Those who are turned away are directed on to another surgery probably three or four miles down the road. For many that will not present a problem, but for older or disabled people, as well as parents with young families, this can make life extremely difficult.

The reasons for the current problems are simple. Demand for their services is growing exponentially. Every year the population of the Lothians grows by around 8000 people – roughly the equivalent of one GP practice – yet there has been nothing like a corresponding increase in local surgeries.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that with the population of the Lothians set to continue growing at such a rate of knots the problem is only going to get worse.

A large part of the problem is that not enough new GPs are coming out of medical schools to take on the growing workload. It is another failure of forward planning to adequately account for the needs of our growing population.

There is no quick fix. The health board is carrying out a fundamental review of local GP services to see what it can do to meet the challenges. But the fundamental problems – including the number of medics being trained for general practice and the likely need to create special incentives to tempt suitably qualified doctors in the meantime – are beyond their control.

Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil must intervene before even more of our GPs close their doors to local residents.