Scottish GP workforce increases for first time in 10 years, figures show

GP numbers in Scotland have risen slightly for the first time in 10 years despite a decrease in the number of practices, official data shows.

GPC Scotland chair Dr Andrew Buist
GPC Scotland chair Dr Andrew Buist

Figures published by the Scottish Information Services Division show that there were 4,994 GPs working in Scotland at the end of September 2018 compared to 4,919 in 2017 - representing an increase of 75.

This is the first real increase in GP numbers Scotland has seen for 10 years, with headcount figures ‘roughly constant at around 4,900 since 2008’. Up-to-date figures on the full-time equivalent workforce are not available however - so it is unclear whether workforce capacity has risen in line with the small rise in headcount GPs.

The rise is predominantly in female GPs, who now make up 61% of GPs in Scotland, while the number of male GPs has steadily fallen over the past decade.

Meanwhile, the number of GP practices in Scotland has decreased by 8% since 2008, from 1,025 to 944. This, coupled with an increase in the average practice list size, reflects a ‘trend towards larger practices with more GPs serving a larger number of patients’.

GP contract

GPC Scotland chair Dr Andrew Buist said: ‘There is no doubt that general practice in Scotland has faced significant difficulties in recruitment and retention… For a long time it has been clear that action was needed and we have seen the first positive steps through the new GP contract.

‘That has also meant the Scottish government has made important commitments to deliver additional health professionals to meet patient needs in communities across Scotland, as well as promising to train and recruit a further 800 GPs. These commitments have been welcomed by the profession and now we must see the detail of how the Scottish Government expects to meet its promises.’

He added: ‘Of course recruitment takes time and in the short-term it is also essential that we also do everything possible to retain the GPs currently working in Scotland, and in particular focus on supporting GPs' own wellbeing in the face of the significant workload pressures we will continue to face for some time to come.’

In England, figures from NHS Digital published last month suggested that GP numbers were finally starting to stabilise after months of rapid decline.

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