Doctor shortage: GPs' leader warns doctor's job often 'unbearable' and Scotland could be at 'tipping point' as numbers fall

GPs having to see twice as many patients as they should

The leader of Scotland's GPs has warned of a "tipping point" where parts of the country just won't have enough doctors.

Dr Andrew Buist, chairman of BMA Scotland's Scottish GP committee, said many family doctors were now having to see twice as many patients as they should and too often their role was "unbearable". But he made clear GPs were opposed to introducing a system where some patients would be asked to pay for their care.

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Speaking on BBC's Sunday Show, Dr Buist said Scotland now had fewer GPs than in 2009, despite the fact that in 2017 the government had planned to increase numbers by 800 by 2027. He said: "We're going backwards. We're losing GPs - GPs are retiring early, in some cases practices are no longer able to sustain a service and are handing back their contract to the health board. As a result patients are finding it harder to get an appointment, harder to get registered. And my real fear is we are at a tipping point and what we are going to see is areas of Scotland that are under-doctored - and that is more likely to happen in areas of higher deprivation and the care of these patients is going to suffer."

Scotland now has fewer GPs than in 2009 and many are retiring early.

In a recent survey only 18 per cent of GPs said they would recommend general practice as a career. Dr Buist said: "We have to make the job bearable. At the moment, all too often it is unbearable because GPs who should be seeing maybe 25-30 people a day are dealing with 60 or more. That becomes very stressful, you worry you're not doing your best for your patients and that's why people are leaving. It's a vicious circle - the worse it gets the more people leave and those people left are dealing with an even worse situation."

Asked about comments by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf that he had never seen public finances so constrained and ministers were having to make "wretched and difficult" decisions, Dr Buist said he had some sympathy. "The situation we're in is not all of his making - this is down to decisions by governments going back 30 or 40 years. We at BMA Scotland are calling for a national conversation with the public as to what they want from their NHS and crucially how they wish the health service to be funded in the future."

There has been talk recently of bringing more money into the health service by introducing a system o "co-payment" where better-off patients are required to pay a certain amount on each visit to a doctor. But Dr Buist said such a move had been unanimously rejected at the BMA's GP conference on Friday. "We absolutely believe in a healthcare system that's free at the point of delivery for those that need it. The risk of putting our head in the sand is that other models will emerge, like co-payments or insurance – we don't want to go down that route."