PATIENTS in rural parts fear they will lose their local doctor’s surgery when the number of GP practices in Scotland falls below 1,000 for the first time.
Figures from April show there were 1,002 practices across Scotland, 60 fewer than a decade ago, and down 12 from last year. The total is expected to fall below 1,000 by the end of the year for the first time since records began.
Yesterday, one Highland GP told Scotland on Sunday that there was a “genuine fear” among patients that small, remote surgeries could be forced to move their staff to bigger premises some distance away, forcing patients to travel further for consultations and treatment.
She said: “A growing number of practices are relocating to share facilities with other practices in a bid to save as much money as possible. Doctors want to see precious NHS funding spent where it is needed most, on patients.
“There are benefits to moving in with others but, at the same time, there is an inevitability that some patients will have to travel further for appointments and there is a genuine fear that, if this has not happened to their surgery yet, it might happen sooner rather than later.
“Older patients in particular are worried about how they would get to relocated practices and how far they might be from where they live.”
Nanette Milne, the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokeswoman, said the reduction in GP practices was a worrying trend for rural areas. “The SNP is presiding over the closure of many GP surgeries at a rate never seen before,” she said. “It’s one thing to go on about tele-health being the answer, but this is no consolation to those patients – particularly in rural communities – who depend on their local GP.
“In the past few weeks alone the GP surgery in Tarves in Aberdeenshire, in Alex Salmond’s own constituency, has closed. It is a situation that is hitting rural communities hard across Scotland. The SNP has become the party of centralisation in the NHS, and this is not something patients or professionals want to see.”
Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP Committee, said: “The reasons for the reduction in the number of surgeries are not clear and we will look at this in more detail.
“We believe, however, that practices are amalgamating rather than closing. We are aware of cases where single handed GPs, struggling with the burden of administration, are joining with other practices to alleviate the pressure.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman insisted changes in the number of practices would not affect patient care.
“If practices merge, there will be no change for patients – who will still go to the same building – but the practices can run their business more efficiently by working together,” she said.