Funding failure for GPs ‘putting patients at risk’

Patients are finding it increasingly difficult to get an appointment with their GP. Picture: Alamy
Patients are finding it increasingly difficult to get an appointment with their GP. Picture: Alamy
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PATIENTS are being put at risk by the Scottish Government’s failure to adequately fund GP surgeries, with one in four Scots unable to see their doctor within a week of wanting an appointment, experts have warned.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland has warned of dangerous consequences for patients as ­a result of a 2.2 per cent ­decrease in funding for the country’s GP surgeries.

The professional body says the “real-terms drop” in funding will exacerbate problems already being experienced by patients, including a rise in the number of people having to wait longer to get an appointment and a surge in patients complaining about the length of time they get with a GP. A new report by the RCGP out today reveals a quarter of Scottish patients were unable to obtain an appointment with their GP within seven days of contacting their surgery.

And on more than 3.3 million occasions patients found themselves unable to see ­either a doctor or a nurse until the third working day – the equivalent of one out of every seven times a request was made.

It also highlighted that, in the last year, on 1.6 million ­occasions patients did not feel they had enough time with their GP – a rise of 8.25 per cent over the 2011/12 figures.

The survey showed that positive ratings for overall arrangements to see a doctor fell to 72 per cent, down 3 percentage points from the previous survey last year.

Dr John Gillies, chair of RCGP Scotland, said the Scottish Government’s refusal to adequately fund general ­practice would lead to ongoing patient dissatisfaction.

He said: “RCGP Scotland has been calling, with the backing of the public and of other health organisations, for the strain on general practice to be eased. If it is not, the consequences for the NHS in ­Scotland and for patients could be even more severe.

“When the crisis in general practice clearly shows patient safety to be under threat, it is incumbent upon the Scottish Government to act.

“Further cuts to the resources GPs have with which to care for patients can only exacerbate the problem. A real-terms drop in funding share of 2.2 per cent, as outlined in the Draft Budget 2015/16, can only deepen the current, very real crisis. This drop stands directly against the 71 per cent of Scots who would like to see funding move from other parts of the health service to general practice.”

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Gillies said he will be handing First Minister Alex Salmond a petition signed by “tens of thousands” of Scots this week which demands GPs receive better funding to decrease the wait to be seen and increase the time GPs have to see them.

The RCGP claims that too short a consultation time “increases the likelihood that conditions and complicating factors may be missed” and that for patients’ safety to ­increase “there must be an acceptance that longer consultation times are required”.

Its latest report also showed that 54 per cent of Scots believed there is a waiting-time crisis in general practice, while three-quarters said there are too few GPs.

The Royal College’s fears were backed by medical and patient bodies last night, who called on the Scottish Government to address the crisis in funding of GP services, while Scottish Labour accused ministers of being “in denial” over the situation.

Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said: “GPs are facing relentless pressure in their day-to-day work just to keep up with the pace of demand whilst maintaining the quality of care they believe their ­patients deserve.

“The increasing intensity of workload along with problems in recruitment and retention mean that general practice is facing a very real crisis. There is an urgent need for the ­Scottish Government to ­address the issues that are threatening the quality of care we can provide our patients.”

Earlier this year the BMA Scotland warned that a growing number of Scottish GP practices faced having to turn newcomers away due to rapidly rising patient lists and were struggling to meet the basic needs of patients due to “intolerable pressures”.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, blamed a shortage of staff, the ageing population and greater demand for GP services. He also said the BMA was struggling to get people to work as GPs in certain areas of Scotland.

Scottish Labour’s public health spokesperson Richard Simpson MSP attacked the Scottish Government’s record on GP funding, saying the RCGP’s report – which uses figures based on a new analysis of the government’s own latest Health and Experience Survey combined with a recent ComRes poll of 1,007 patients – was further proof of its ­failure to address the issue.

He said: “Year on year we have seen a reduction in the proportion of NHS budget ­applied to primary care.”

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “The problem of overstretched GPs is not new, but it is getting worse because successive governments have failed to address the underlying causes.”

However, Health Secretary Alex Neil defended the government’s record, claiming it had protected and increased the budget for NHS Scotland.

He said: “The number of GPs in Scotland has increased by 5.7 per cent under this government and the number of GPs per head of population is substantially higher in Scotland than England.

“Last year, 87 per cent of patients rated their overall experience of care by the GP surgery as excellent or good.”

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