NHS Lothian is spending nine times as much on providing locum doctors to provide cover in GP practices than it did two years ago.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Evening News found that the health board spent £76,675 in 2016/17 on providing replacement doctors to fill in at the nine surgeries, known as 2c practices that they now have total control over. This is down on the £86,468 they spent in 2015/16 but is way over the £8,136 spent on locums in 2014/15 before the current GP recruitment crisis kicked in.
A total of five GP practices have closed in Lothian over the last three years, the latest being the Inverleith Medical Practice which shut its doors in June and catered for 4,000 patients.
NHS Lothian has been forced to take over the running of nine practices with more than half of them restricting their patient lists.
Dr Miles Mack, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland said colleagues in the Lothians had suffered from over a “decade of cuts” to the percentage share of NHS Scotland’s budget spent on general practice.
He added: “That share fell from 9.8 per cent in 2005/06 to just 7.3 per cent in 2015/16 against a backdrop of severe increases in demand.
“If that percentage share is raised to 11 per cent then we will see greater retention and recruitment of GPs, practices better able to expand their own primary care teams and safer services to patients.
“It is, as our Put Patients First campaign has been saying for four years now, an obvious false economy to underfund general practice, the gatekeeper and hub of the NHS.”
The RCGP Scotland has predicted a shortfall of 828 GPs across Scotland by 2021.
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said: “This revelation shows the extent of the crisis in the NHS workforce.
“A decade of SNP mismanagement has left our GP practices under-staffed and under-resourced and as these figures show, the situation isn’t getting any better.
“It is clear that Shona Robison is incapable of solving this crisis and must go.”
At present, 43 out of 73 GP practices in the city are restricting patient registrations. The situation is so bad that both Hibs and Hearts have offered to host medical practices within their grounds.
David Small, director of health and social care at NHS Lothian, said: “Most independent contractor GP practices employ locum doctors to cover short term gaps in staffing. In NHS Lothian the number of practices that have come into direct NHS Board management has increased over the last three years. The trend in NHS Lothian expenditure on locum GPs reflects that. These costs would previously have been incurred in these practices as independent contractors.”
Miles Briggs, Lothian MSP and Conservative Health spokesman, said: “The jump in spending on locum GPs in practices directly run by NHS Lothian is yet another stark indication of the pressures on GP services.
“GP services across Lothian are struggling to cope with increasing demand and practices are finding it hard to recruit permanent GPs.”