ONE in five training slots for GPs in Scotland has been left empty this summer as the number of junior doctors choosing to work in that part of the NHS has declined, new figures showed.
With surgeries already struggling to fill vacancies for qualified GPs, it emerged 21 per cent of training jobs in general practice were unfilled this summer.
“Unless action is taken, communities will suffer”Lib Dems leader Willie Rennie
As 65 training positions were lying vacant for that period, health experts warned the situation was “critical” and “poses a significant threat to general practice” in Scotland.
Medical bodies have already expressed concern that Scotland is facing a GP workforce crisis, with some practices collapsing because they could not replace doctors who left or retired.
Surgeries in a number of health board areas such as Lothian, Dundee and Fife have also had to restrict the patients they take on to their lists because they are reaching capacity.
Dr Elaine McNaughton, deputy chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland, blamed the recruitment problem on what she said were continued cuts to GP services. She said: “These figures confirm the critical nature of the recruitment situation which poses a significant threat to general practice.
“RCGP Scotland believes that repeated yearly cuts in funding to general practice send out a very negative signal.”
The latest figures come after years of decline in the GP sector as the area of choice for qualified health professionals in Scotland in which to work.
In 2012, 96 per cent of the training positions were taken, dropping to 92 per cent in 2013, 89 per cent last year and 78 per cent this year. UK-wide, slightly more GP training vacancies have been filled this summer at 80 per cent.
The Scottish Government has announced investment of £50 million over three years to address immediate workforce issues in general practice, funding welcomed by the RCGP. But the body said it felt the shortage required a “much larger response”.
However, the Scottish General Practitioners Committee (SGPC) of the British Medical Association has also issued a series of warnings about staff shortages and the pressure on GPs.
Dr John Kyle, who represents training issues on the SGPC, said: “It is very disappointing that increasing numbers of trainees are no longer seeing general practice as an attractive specialty.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called on the SNP government to act to maintain the current levels of access to community doctors.
Mr Rennie said: “My fear is that unless action is taken now, the crisis will become inevitable and local communities will suffer.”
Health secretary Shona Robison said: “We currently have the highest staffing levels ever across our NHS. However, we absolutely recognise there are ongoing recruitment and retention challenges.
“We are working with the profession to make general practice as attractive a career choice as possible.”