Scottish GPs working longer hours as full-time workforce falls

One in every 18 sessions of GP time required in the Scottish NHS is unfilled, according to official workforce data that show GPs across the country working longer hours.

GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt
GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt

Almost one in four GP practices that responded to official polling reported that they had vacant GP sessions on 31 August 2017 - a sharp rise from 2013, when just 9% reported that they had unfilled GP sessions.

A total of 8% of practices had nine or more sessions per week vacant, the poll found, with the total proportion of sessions unfilled across Scotland estimated at 5.6% - around one in 18.

While headcount GP numbers in Scotland have been stable, rising slightly from 4,400 in 2009 to 4,453 in 2017, the full-time equivalent workforce has dropped - falling from 3,735 in 2013 to 3,575 in 2017.

GP working hours

Hours worked by GPs have increased over the past two years with 39% working 40 hours or more per week in 2017, compared with 35% in 2015. GPs working 30 to 39 hours rose to 35% from 31%, and the proportion working fewer than 30 hours per week fell to 26% - down sharply from 34% in 2015.

This comes despite a drop in the full-time equivalent workforce as the number of sessions worked per GP has fallen in recent years - suggesting that heavy workload is forcing doctors to take on more work per session.

A total of 37% of GPs worked eight or more sessions per week in 2017, down from 42% in 2015 and 51% in 2013, the data from ISD Scotland reveal.

GP contract

GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt 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.

'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.'

Although the bulk of GPs in Scotland backed the new contract, some rural GPs have quit the BMA over its decision to press ahead with its implementation over fears that the deal puts their future at risk.

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