Scottish GP vacancies have doubled since 2013 as workforce dipped

Twice as many Scottish practices have a GP vacancy compared with the situation two years ago, latest NHS figures show.

GPC Scotland chairman Dr Alan McDevitt (Photo: Douglas Robertson)
GPC Scotland chairman Dr Alan McDevitt (Photo: Douglas Robertson)

The Primary Care Workforce Survey Scotland for 2015, published by NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division, also revealed that the number of whole-time equivalent GPs working in Scottish practices fell by more than 2% between 2013 and 2015, from 3,735 to 3,645.

One in five of the practices that responded to the survey reported having a GP vacancy, twice as many as in 2013, and half of the reported vacancies had been unfilled for more than six months.

The biennial survey also found that all NHS Boards in Scotland, apart from Shetland, had had to take action because they could not fill all their GP out-of-hours shifts as planned. Nine of these 13 boards said they had to take action at least weekly, most commonly asking GPs to work longer shifts.

GP practices threatened

GPC Scotland chairman Dr Alan McDevitt said the survey showed the extent of the problems facing general practice in Scotland, which he warned may not survive without extra funding.

‘GPs are choosing to leave the profession and those that remain are facing an increasingly unmanageable workload,’ he said.

‘Without significant funding invested specifically in general practice recruitment and retention, the situation will only get worse.

‘General practice is facing some of its toughest challenges, with workload and patient demand at unprecedented levels. Our members across the country are telling us of the rising pressure they are facing and the difficulties they are having trying to recruit to vacant posts. This is simply not sustainable.

GP workforce

‘Without commitment to substantial new funding and staff, the general practice we all need and value, may not survive.’

RCGP Scotland said the fall in WTE GPs meant that Scotland now needed an extra 830 GPs to return to the staffing levels of 2009.

RCGP Scotland chairman Dr Miles Mack said: 'Increasing funding to primary care is not sufficient. We must see urgent increased funding specifically to grassroots general practice services.

‘We are concerned that the 100 extra GP training places promised in October 2015, to start this current year, have not come about and that we have yet to hear a timescale for their delivery. 20% of last year’s training places went unfilled. We need urgent measures to make sure those places are available and taken up.

‘To be able to look after an ageing population with increasingly complex needs will need general practice to again be the most desirable career in medicine. It is obvious that additional resources will be needed to achieve this.’

Scottish health minister Shona Robison said: 'There still remain challenges in recruiting and retaining doctors to work in general practice. While Scotland continues to have the highest number of GPs per patient in the UK, we still need to act now to redesign the way care is provided in the community to ensure these services are sustainable in the future.'

She said the Scottish government had allocated £20m over the coming year to ease immediate pressures on the profession.

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