Four in five GP practices report demand exceeding capacity, BMA Scotland poll shows

More than four in five GP practices say demand is exceeding capacity - with around half of these warning of 'substantial' excess workload, polling by BMA Scotland shows.

BMA Scotland GP committee chair Dr Andrew Buist
BMA Scotland GP committee chair Dr Andrew Buist

BMA Scotland called for an 'urgent and renewed focus on recruitment and retention of GPs' - warning that data collected from practices showed workload was surging, and that more than one in four practices had a GP post vacant.

Responses from GP practices collected by the BMA suggest that practices in Scotland delivered more than 500,000 appointments in a single week at the start of October - suggesting around one in 10 of the country's entire population consulted a GP in that one-week period.

GP leaders also called for an end to abuse directed at GPs and practice teams, warning that the problem was getting worse - and demanded urgent support from 'politicians across all parties'.

GP workload

The BMA Scotland poll gathered responses from 375 GP practices - 41% of the total in Scotland - covering more than 2.5m patients.

A total of 83% of practices reported demand was exceeding capacity, while 42% said demand 'substantially exceeded capacity' - and just 4% of respondents said capacity exceeded demand at their practice.

Almost nine in 10 respondents (88%) said 'a member of staff had been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the last month', and four in five said abuse had worsened since spring this year.

A total of 28% of practices reported at least one GP vacancy - and BMA Scotland said the data suggested there may be as many as 225 full-time equivalent vacancies across GP practices in Scotland. Meanwhile, every practice that responded reported delivering face-to-face appointments every day.

Capacity and demand

BMA Scotland GP committee chair Dr Andrew Buist said: 'It comes as absolutely no surprise that the vast majority of GP surgeries are saying there is simply not enough capacity to meet demand. Indeed 42% say capacity is substantially below what is required to meet demand for care.

'While this is in part, of course, due to increased demand, it is also clearly because we don’t have enough GPs. We have been saying this for some time, we believe it is now widely accepted and is why we have always welcomed the Scottish government’s commitments to recruit the additional GP workforce.

'However, the need for this is significantly emphasised even further by today’s survey, which shows 28% - more than a quarter – of GP practices in Scotland currently have vacancies for one or more GPs.'

Dr Buist said the BMA had welcomed the Scottish government's 2017 pledge to increase the GP workforce by 800 doctors - but warned: 'We need to see that backed up by a renewed focus on retention and recruitment of GPs so we can boost overall numbers. We cannot allow overall numbers in the GP workforce to stall as recent figures show they did between 2013 and 2019.'

The BMA Scotland GP committee chair also condemned abuse faced by GPs and practice staff. 'Difficulty getting an appointment can cause understandable frustration at times,' he said. 'But it can never be acceptable when this spills over into abuse, which our survey shows is still happening and indeed may be getting worse. We need to be absolutely clear, once and for all, that this is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.'

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