The warning came after a Scottish Parliament debate on Wednesday that saw Conservative MSPs calling unsuccessfully for a target date to be set for GPs to return to normal activity, including face-to-face consultations.
But several MSPs made the point that GPs are already giving face-to-face consultations, which were severely scaled back, but not ruled out during the pandemic.
Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, also underlined this and called for better messaging from politicians.
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He said GPs were under “immense pressure”, which risked staff resignations that would in turn be “catastrophic”.
“GPs have been working flat out throughout the pandemic and – contrary to some messaging – have continued to see patients face-to-face where it is clinically appropriate following an initial telephone consultation,” he said.
“Believe me, every GP appreciates the frustration that the general public feel and we are doing all we can to see as many patients as possible in the manner in which is most clinically appropriate.
"But there needs to be honest and real messaging from all politicians about the capacity, time and the challenges and pressures that all doctors are facing right now.”
Dr Buist labelled a timetable or target to increase face-to-face consultation “unrealistic, demoralising and potentially counterproductive”.
"If the pressures and attitude towards those working in the frontline of primary care – and that includes practice staff such as our receptionists – are not addressed as a matter of real urgency, then we are at a very real risk of losing a substantial number of GPs,” he said.
"When we are already in a situation where we don’t have enough GPs to meet current demand, the impact of the workforce we do have leaving or retiring early would be catastrophic.”
Dr Chris Williams, joint chair of the Royal College of GPs in Scotland, said the college views targets such as that proposed by the Scottish Conservatives as “meaningless”.
“Instead of arbitrary targets, which we feel would not benefit either patients or the wider health service, we need to see concerted and urgent action in a range of areas that would improve general practice and ultimately the standards of care that patients receive,” he said.
Dr Williams added: “We recognise that many patients prefer face-to-face appointments. Indeed, many GPs prefer to deliver care in this way too.
"RCGP Scotland is clear that the future of general practice should be a mixed model of remote and face-to-face appointments that meet the needs of the individual patient.
"We also want to ensure that our patients are able to spend more time with their GP. This is why we strive to deliver 15-minute appointments as standard.
"While we continue to work towards this favoured method of delivering GP services, we cannot lose sight of the fact that our health service is still operating under extremely difficult circumstances and unfortunately it simply isn’t possible to deliver to the extent that we would like at the moment.”