A “CRISIS” is growing among Scotland’s GP workforce as “intolerable” conditions drive doctors away from the profession, MSPs have been warned.
Remote and poorer areas of Scotland will find it increasingly difficult to attract GPs, driving up NHS costs as expensive locums are used to fill the void.
Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP committee, told MSPs on Holyrood’s health committee urgent action was needed to address the situation.
“We’re seeing the early signs of a workforce crisis starting to emerge in general practice,” he said. “General practice has lost popularity with young doctors coming into the profession. Older doctors are leaving earlier in their late fifties rather than hanging on until their early sixties. We’re also losing doctors in the middle of their careers.”
Women now outnumber men in the GP workforce across the UK for the first time, he added. Dr Buist said: “That’s a good thing, but when they go away to have families, they’re not coming back into the profession and one of the reasons for that is, they’re frankly burned out – the workload is becoming intolerable.
“We’re battle-weary and it’s not just deprived areas – it’s across virtually the whole spectrum of general practice.”
Dr Buist said he has been a GP for the past 20 years and the situation has never been worse. “Yesterday I saw 40 patients face to face. It was an 11-hour day and lunch was five minutes,” he said.
“That’s a marked contrast with 11 years ago – in those days I might have had two hours to myself in the middle of the day.”
The Isle of Cumbrae is currently running a GP practice with locums – at double the cost of a routine service – because it cannot fill the post.
“We need to do something quite quickly to stabilise the workforce,” he added.
“You are going to start seeing that in other areas. It’s going to particularly hit rural areas, deprived and out-of-hours services, and will make locums increasingly difficult to find.”
The BMA in Scotland is calling for integrated action to reduce the gap between the health of those living in the poorest parts of the country and those in more affluent communities.
It warned that welfare reforms and economic pressures “seem likely to exacerbate health inequalities”, and said as a result of that “there are still significant challenges to overcome in reducing the health inequalities gap between the richest and poorest in our society and improving general population health”.
Public health minister Michael Matheson said: “Scotland’s health is improving, with people living longer, healthier lives. But despite our best efforts, deeply ingrained health inequalities persist. The problem cannot be solved with health solutions alone as health inequalities are caused by entrenched problems of poverty, educational under-attainment, unemployment and poor mental wellbeing.
“It is our belief that health inequalities in Scotland can only be solved by tackling the root causes of inequality, and taking the fight beyond the NHS.
“Westminster cuts and welfare reforms have made our task considerably more difficult. The Scottish Government believes that only with independence can we create a fairer society where we can really get to the fundamental causes of health inequality.”
NHS Health Scotland added in a statement: “The strongest action to reduce health inequalities is to reduce inequality in economic and social conditions, but action can be taken at other societal levels to prevent and mitigate the impact of inequalities on health.”