Miles Briggs: A winter SOS for the NHS gatekeepers

The Royal College of GPs estimates we'll be short of more than 850 family doctors within a few years
The Royal College of GPs estimates we'll be short of more than 850 family doctors within a few years
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Rarely does the work of a GP become more obvious and important than when the temperature plummets and the winter nights close in.

And with every year that goes by, Scotland’s population becomes a little older with more complex needs while family doctors seem to have to cater for those challenges with ever-decreasing resources.

Miles Briggs is a Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary. Picture: Greg Macvean

Miles Briggs is a Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary. Picture: Greg Macvean

Across the Lothians, GP practices will be gearing up for the busiest few months of the year, adding cases of influenza, sickness bugs and heavy colds to the already growing list of challenges. But in some ways, general practice has never been so poorly equipped to cope.

That’s exactly why the Scottish Conservatives have launched the Save Our Surgeries appeal, to ensure the role of GPs is protected, and more funding can be directed into practices right across the country.

Already we’ve held street stalls across the country, which has resulted in many people signing up to help and back our appeal.

It’s an issue which impacts everyone, which is very much demonstrated in the community engagement we’ve had so far.

How can we possibly expect GPs to be the gatekeepers of the NHS when we’re asking them to continually do more with less?

The statistics which illustrate the challenge facing general practice are stark. The Royal College of GPs estimates we’ll be short of more than 850 family doctors within a few years.

In the last decade up to 3000 doctors have left the country, while a third of GP training places are unfilled.

And even though patient lists have grown by 12 per cent in recent years, the number of surgeries to deal with them has dropped by six per cent.

It’s no wonder people are finding it difficult to get an appointment, and the doctors and associated staff left over are feeling the strain.

But it’s not just general practice that would benefit from a larger slice of the health budget being put in that direction.

If GPs were able to deal more effectively with patients – something increased funding would allow – it would take the burden off accident and emergency departments somewhat.

That then allows the whole hospital system some breathing space to get things right, rather than constantly play the role of firefighter.

The phrase “gatekeepers of the NHS” wasn’t invented because it was a good soundbite. It was supposed to mean something.

Unless we ensure those gatekeepers are properly resourced, GPs will be forced to look on while patients stampede through, and place immense and unnecessary pressure on other parts of the NHS.

By getting behind our Save Our Surgeries appeal, the Scottish Government could help stem that flow, and with winter approaching, now would be the perfect time to act.

Miles Briggs is a Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary