MORE GP surgeries than ever are closed to new patients, with over a fifth of Lothian practices now operating with “restrictions” on their waiting lists.
The Evening News revealed in May how capacity pressures had forced 19 of the region’s 127 practices to declare themselves full to new patients.
But now that figure has soared to 27 – an increase of 40 per cent – following a review of primary care services by NHS Lothian.
The “alarming” rise comes within days of a survey by BMA Scotland which stated that outdated and cramped facilities were undermining care.
The survey of 441 practices in Scotland found more than half of GPs were having to share consulting rooms or “hot desk”, leaving 61 per cent fewer appointments available.
Many GPs have complained they are struggling to cope with growing patient lists amid rising numbers of older patients who often require more attention and home visits, forcing them to close their doors.
Despite patients being turned away from many practices, none are officially classified as having closed lists. They are instead described as being “open but full”.
NHS Lothian has admitted an extra 33 GP surgeries are needed to meet demand.
Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay MSP questioned how prepared NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government were for the growing demand.
“It is a really alarming situation within Lothian,” he said.
“Last week I spoke to two other practices who are facing, or will face, similar shortages over the next few months because staff are due to leave or retire.”
The rising tide of closed patient lists is being blamed on the large number of doctors retiring as insufficient replacements are trained or recruited. The city’s swelling population is also said to be a factor.
Dr John Gillies, chairman of the Royal College of GPs Scotland, said Lothian’s dilemma was an example of general practice “teetering on the brink of collapse”. He said: “Without essential investment we will be seeing yet more practices having to close their lists.
“Urgent action is needed to ensure that we have enough GPs to continue providing safe care for all patients.”
Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw called for an audit of GPs patient lists across Scotland. He said: “The BMA has its own axe to grind, but patients are the ones suffering.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said GP practices, like other areas of the NHS, faced challenges as a result of a growing and increasingly elderly population.
“That is why £757 million was invested directly in primary medical services in 2012-13, an increase of ten per cent since 2006-7,” he said.
“There will also be a further £6m increase in investment in primary medical services for general practice in 2014-15, while a further £2.2m has been added to the value of the GP contract to take into account the growth in Scotland’s population last year.”