eadlines warning of another practice struggling as a result of being unable to recruit GPs have become a familiar sight in recent months. Yet many people don’t need to see articles in the press to know there is a problem in general practice – they are experiencing it for themselves at their own surgery.
Across Scotland, GP practices are struggling to fill vacancies and ensure that there are enough GPs to meet the needs of their patients.
A recent BMA Scotland survey found that 28 per cent of practices in Scotland had at least one GP vacancy in June this year while 75 per cent of practices have previously warned of difficulties in finding locum cover.
When a practice doesn’t have enough GPs, the inevitable result is that patients are often left waiting longer for appointments and the workload GPs face can grow beyond manageable limits.
In the most challenging cases, some GP practices have been forced into restricting their list of patients or even to hand back their contracts to the health board.
No doctor wants to take that kind of action, but it is becoming all too common for GPs to find they have to take such extreme measures and when one practice has to take such a step, it only increases the pressure on neighbouring practices to look after the additional patients.
Caring for our patients is at the heart of everything a GP does, but maintaining the excellent care patients rightly expect of us is only becoming harder as GPs are spread ever more thinly.
The combination of an ageing population with increasingly complex health needs and an insufficient number of GPs make it difficult to attract new trainees into a career as a GP, while as many as one third of existing GPs are considering plans to retire.
It takes around ten years to train and qualify as a GP, so there are no quick-fix solutions to fill vacant posts with new doctors overnight.
Negotiations towards a new GP contract that can help to attract more doctors to become GPs are under way, but it is clear that more resources to support general practice are also required.
The BMA wants to see the re-establishment of practice based primary health care teams in modern community healthcare facilities that would see nurses, pharmacists, social workers and other professionals all working together with patients.
With more health professionals in the community some of the pressure on GPs can be relieved and general practice can start to move towards a more sustainable future.
Dr Andrew Buist, is deputy chair of BMA Scotland’s GP Committee.