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Nearly one in four GP practices in Scotland report vacancies

Over a third of GPs are 50 or over, survey shows

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 06 March 2018

Almost one in four GP practices in Scotland report vacancies, new data shows.

Published today by the Information Services Division (ISD), the results from the Primary Care Workforce Survey Scotland 2017, reveals the estimated whole-time equivalent (WTE) of GPs is in decline. Moreover, the statistics show an ageing workforce, with over a third of GPs aged 50 or over, and evidence of staff having to work longer shifts to fill out-of-hours services.

Key findings include:

  • While the estimated headcount of GPs working in Scottish general practice has changed very little over time, the estimated WTE of GPs has been declining since 2013 (from 3,735 in 2013 to 3,575 in 2017; a decrease of over 4%).
  • The estimated WTE of registered nurses and health care support workers employed by general practice increased between 2013 and 2017, by 9% and 33% respectively.
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of responding GP practices reported current GP vacancies, compared to 22% in 2015, and 9% in 2013. In contrast, only 6% of responding GP practices reported vacancies for registered nurses.
  • Over a third (36%) of GPs and more than half (55%) of nurses working in Scottish general practice are aged 50 years or over.
  • Within GP out-of-hour services, 10% of the GPs worked 1,000 hours or more over the year and their total annual hours accounted for nearly half (46%) of the total GP hours worked.
  • All NHS boards reported having to take actions due to being unable to fill GP out-of-hour shifts as planned. The most common actions taken to fill shifts were for staff to work longer shifts and increased rates or financial incentives.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP Committee, said: “The fact that almost one in four of the responding GP practices reported current GP vacancies shows that recruitment and retention problems continue to be an issue across Scotland. Our own surveys have shown similar results over the past two years, and one of the main objectives of the GP contract negotiation was to address these problems.

“Every unfilled vacancy puts more and more strain on remaining GPs who must struggle to cover the gaps in their practice, while also coping with rapidly increasing demands on GP services.”

Dr McDevitt added: “The new GP contract, which will be implemented in April, will start to address the significant workload pressures that are currently being felt by GPs and their practice staff. It offers stability and security of funding for practices in Scotland and will help to reduce the business risk of being a GP.

“I hope that young doctors will be encouraged by the direction we are going in to choose a career in general practice.”

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