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Scotland could be short of between 500 and 900+ GPs by 2020

Population growth fuelling demand; extra numbers would bring coverage up to 2009 levels

Caroline White

Friday, 24 April 2015

Scotland faces a shortfall of at least 500+ GPs by 2020, and possibly double that figure, depending on levels of expected population growth, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland has warned.

If the population increases at the highest estimate of predicted growth, 915 extra GPs would be needed to regain and maintain per capita coverage at 2009 levels, the RCGP has calculated. But even if growth continued at its lower predicted rate, 563 extra GPs would still be needed.

Further new figures, from a new poll carried out in March-April 2015 by ComRes, show that a third of those polled (36%) said that last time they tried to book an appointment, they could not get to see their GP within the Scottish government’s 48 hour target for GP access, agreed for all health boards.

And over a quarter of respondents (28%) say that they were unable to book an appointment within a week. Three in 10 (29%) think that the ability to see their GP will decline over the next five years, while two in five (42%) agree that waiting times to see a GP amount to “a national crisis.”

Dr Miles Mack, Chair of RCGP Scotland, said that if extra GP capacity is not forthcoming over the next five years, “we face a very different 2020 Vision than the Scottish government would wish to report.”

He continued: “It takes five years after a first university medical degree to train a GP. We need immediate action and radical thinking if we are to save the system we have been so justly proud of.”

He described the poll findings as “very worrying indeed,” and said that “there is clearly a desperate need for all Scottish politicians to put general practice at the front of their thinking and announcements and to emulate the commitments for England that political leaders there have given regarding sourcing and funding a much larger GP workforce.”

“We have heard one, very welcome, commitment to 500 extra GPs in Scotland from Scottish Labour. What a loss it would be if the other Scottish parties ignored the central hub of the Scottish NHS and did not seize the opportunity to save general practice. Only then will the Scottish public be better served by its health service and the pressure can be lifted from A&E and the rest of the NHS,” he declared.

The Scottish government had not yet faced up to the crisis in Scottish medical services, he insisted.

“Governmental press statements consistently claim increases in GP numbers that ignore the impact of part-time workers and directly contradict their own reporting from NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division [ISD].

“We had, according to the ISD Primary Care Workforce Survey of 2013, only 35 new Whole Time Equivalent GPs between 2009 and 2013. Similarly, it is repeated that Scotland has more GPs per head of population than England. That has always been the case and our larger rural areas have been a significant contributor to that.” 

The ComRes findings also show that three out of four (73%) Scots agree that the government should provide financial incentives for under-doctored areas. Similarly, 61% of respondents feel that most of the £40 million Primary Care Fund announced in November last year should go to frontline GP services.

“We have consistently argued through our Put patients first: Back general practice campaign that Scottish general practice needs 11% of the NHS spend to adequately fund the service Scottish people want. We cannot wait. Action must be taken now,” Dr Mack insisted.

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