Hundreds of Scots GPs retire early as workload pressures cause ‘burn-out’

Alex Cole-Hamilton said the SNP approach isn't working. Picture: Greg Macvean
Alex Cole-Hamilton said the SNP approach isn't working. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A growing number of “burnt out” Scottish GPs are seeking early retirement as pressures of the job take their toll, official figures have shown.

More than 500 GPs have walked away from the profession since 2007 amid concerns over punishing workloads and not being able to spend enough time with patients.

The Scottish Government is now facing fresh calls to produce its long-awaited NHS workforce plan and address the “neglect” of primary care.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said the recently-signed GPs contract will help ease workloads and set out plans to attract 800 new doctors over the next decade.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats found 533 doctors have taken early retirement since the SNP came to power in 2007.

In 2007-8, the party’s first year in government, the number of GPs taking early retirement was just 22, compared with 74 last year.

The figures have shown rises and falls over the past decade, but over the long term show a clear upward trend.

It comes after recent revelations that GPs are working up to 90 hours per week and that some posts have been lying vacant for two years and advertised eight times without success.

Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These new figures show that the number of GPs deciding to take early retirement is disappointingly high.

“When GPs are working up to 90 hours in a week, it is no wonder we are seeing hundreds of them say enough is enough. Years of disinvestment has left doctors burnt out and badly let down.

“The SNP’s approach to workforce planning seems to be to press their hands together and hope for the best. It is clearly not working.”

A survey of Scots GPs published by the British Medical Association just over a year ago found that more than a third are planning to retire within next five years.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said: “There is no doubt severe workload pressures have contributed to increasing vacancies, which clearly only then adds to challenge of retaining GPs in the profession. The new contract, which came into effect last week, will see a range of additional health professionals recruited over the next three years to relieve some of the workload that GPs are struggling with.”

The new GP contract was introduced at the end of last month, backed by investment of £110 million in 2018-19 and jointly developed with the BMA, with the aim of cutting doctors’ workload and making general practice a more attractive career.

Ms Robison added: “Our ambition is to increase the number of GPs by at least 800 over ten years to ensure a sustainable service that meets increasing demand.

“There will also be new investment in the wider multi-disciplinary teams to support GPs. Details of how we will achieve this will be set out in our Primary Care Workforce Plan. We are committed to primary care.”