Dean Marshall: Bureaucracy taking too much GP time

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This week the BMA in Scotland reported that one in three GPs was planning to retire in the next five years. They also warned that one in five practices currently have one vacancy, and that the profession was on the brink of a recruitment crisis.

This is worrying stuff. One of the GP partners at my practice is retiring later this year and we are very concerned that we will struggle to fill this vacancy.

I can understand why many GPs are feeling so frustrated with the job that they want to leave. I love seeing patients, I feel that this part of my job is most rewarding and it’s what I always wanted to do. But the rest of the job; the financial pressures, the long hours and the relentless bureaucracy, makes it feel very unfulfilling and that can sap morale, stress you out and make you reconsider the commitment you made to the NHS and your patients.

My practice in Midlothian has a broad mix of patients which makes for a really interesting general practice career. We have new premises and an excellent practice team which means we are as well organised and as efficient as possible. It should be an attractive practice to work in but we are concerned that, like colleagues in other parts of Edinburgh, we may struggle to get any suitable applicants for our vacancy this year. So we are currently thinking about how best to advertise this job to attract people to work here.

Although some patients might think that we only work when we’re doing consultations, the reality is that we are spending more and more time on bureaucracy and paperwork, dealing with benefits claims, various requests for letters and certificates and producing reports to prove to NHS mangers what we are doing. This means less time for seeing patients and dealing with their problems.

I’ve been a GP for 21 years now, and the service has changed so much in that time. Now, the most significant demand on our clinical time is the complex care needs of our older patients. We need to spend more time with these patients but that would mean less time for others, and these other patients looking for appointments in the practice may have to wait longer. At the same time, we have around 300 appointments lost each month as patients don’t turn up without letting us know; time that could be used for other patients.

So, like many other practices, we desperately need to fill the vacancy for a GP partner to maintain the quality of service that patients deserve. Failure to do so is likely to result in some patients in the future not having access to a GP.

Dr Dean Marshall is a GP in Dalkeith