Recruitment crisis threatens patient safety in rural practices

A growing recruitment crisis in rural Scottish practices is having an 'adverse impact' on the continued safe and effective care in remote communities, RCGP Scotland has warned.

Patient safety in rural practices could be compromised, RCGP Scotland warned (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)
Patient safety in rural practices could be compromised, RCGP Scotland warned (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

Scottish GPs called for a raft of changes to bolster the rural workforce, including more opportunities for rural placements during undergraduate training, which it said could give students an ‘excellent opportunity to learn generalist medical skills’.

General practice is facing recruitment and retention problems across Scotland along with the rest of the UK, but the problem has reached ‘crisis point’ in remote and rural areas, RCGP Scotland warned.

Its Being Rural policy paper called for an ‘urgent’ review and reshaping of practices in isolated communities. Problems recruiting and retaining staff are reaching dangerous levels, it said.

The report, penned by Scottish GPs, identified multiple major issues contributing to the recruitment problem and described rural practice as a ‘challenging environment’ for healthcare professionals.

Remote posts are often deemed unattractive for a number of reasons. Rural communities are plagued with poor mobile and internet connectivity, limited transport and fragile support services.

Professional and social isolation were considered to be major contributors to low morale among staff.

Unique pressures

The workload pressures unique to rural practice are also thought to have played a role in the developing crisis. Many rural GPs in Scotland work under a 24-hour commitment, and are unable to opt out of out-of-hours services.

GPs are also frequently expected to undertake extra healthcare responsibilities and adopt a much wider role in acute illness and trauma cases to compensate for a lack of other available healthcare services, such as in dermatology and paediatrics. They often have limited-to-no back up or support.

RCGP Scotland warned that these complex issues could have 'adverse' effects on the continued provision of safe and effective patient care in these communities.

It called for improved communications in remote areas, a recruitment drive for people from a rural background, and greater exposure to a rural career during GP foundation training.

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