A leading doctor has warned GPs are “running on empty” as doctors cited unmanageable workload and lack of investment as the worst aspects of their medical careers.
Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Scottish GP committee, has warned ministers the service is at a “tipping point” and will not survive unless urgent action is taken.
It comes as a new BMA Scotland survey of 1,021 GPs found an unmanageable workload topped a list of concerns while the inability to meet patients’ needs within the resources available followed closely behind as the worst part of the job.
The lack of priority given to investment in GP services and the unwarranted criticism of general practice where the inability to get an appointment is blamed on the doctor also ranked highly.
‘I am calling for the Scottish Government to come good on its commitment to having a national conversation on the future of Scotland’s NHS – an honest, mature discussion, consulting the public on what they want from their health service’Dr Andrew Buist
In his sixth and final speech to the Scottish Local Medical Committee (SLMC) conference, Dr Buist used his speech to urge the Scottish Government to safeguard the sector’s future.
He warned general practice was dying a slow, “lingering death”, adding the current trajectory “will lead to great instability and the dismantling of general practice as we have known it, with significant disruption to the rest of the NHS”.
He said: “General practice is running on empty in many parts of the country – and GPs working so hard on behalf of their communities are exhausted and burnt out.
“General practice has been under-resourced for years now. Without the proper funding, numbers of GPs will continue to drop – and the impact is nearly always greatest where general practice is needed more: in particular, areas of higher deprivation and areas of low population density.”
The senior doctor has said that while the Scottish population increased by 7% in the last decade, the number of GP practices had reduced by 9% and average list sizes have increased by 18%.
The Scottish Government has committed to increasing the number of GPs by 800 by 2027 and said the headcount in 2022 was a record high of 5,209.
“We have reached a tipping point in general practice and I believe we are in serious trouble. The independent contractor GP model has served us well for over 70 years and, if properly funded, could serve Scotland for many more decades – but core general practice desperately requires more funding to meet the population needs, and is the key action to take pressure off secondary care services,” he added.
“But, without it, we simply cannot give the people of Scotland the level of care they need and deserve.
“So, once again, I am calling for the Scottish Government to come good on its commitment to having a national conversation on the future of Scotland’s NHS – an honest, mature discussion, consulting the public on what they want from their health service.
“If we want a sustainable NHS, one that will be around in 25 years, now is the time – this cannot be avoided any longer.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are incredibly thankful to GPs for the vital service they provide to communities and we know they face continued pressure.
“GP numbers are at a record high in Scotland, with the highest number of GPs per head than in other parts of the UK.
“We are committed to further increasing the number of GPs in Scotland.
“To support general practice, we have significantly expanded the multi-disciplinary primary care workforce, with total staff of 4,731 whole time equivalent working in multidisciplinary team services including physiotherapy, pharmacy and phlebotomy at March 2023 and we are supporting development of these teams through investment of £190m in 2023-24 through the primary care improvement fund.”
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