The shocking revelation came as one of Scotland’s top general practitioners warned that “without a strong GP service, the NHS is going to topple”.
Research by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), revealed exclusively to Scotland on Sunday, shows that 31.7 per cent of GP staff said their practice was at risk of closing in the next few months.
According to the survey, GP surgeries have identified unmanageable workload, GP partners leaving the profession, and a shortage of salaried GPs, as the main reasons for potential practice closures.
Furthermore, 81.5 per cent of the 181 respondents were concerned or very concerned about their practice's ability to deliver “the level of care that patients will need in winter 2022/23”.
The deputy chair of RCGP Scotland, Edinburgh GP Dr Catriona Morton, said demographic change has led to “demand outstripping supply” with an increasing – and increasingly elderly – population putting immense pressure on a GP service which has barely expanded in the last ten years.
“If we don’t have a strong GP service the NHS is going to topple,” said Dr Morton. “If we don’t build GP practice, with our ageing population, the NHS isn’t going to survive.
“I worry that care for myself in ten years just won’t be there. Everyday I see amazing things at work. The young partners are amazing, but when I look at them, I feel relieved I won’t have to work like they do. None of us can retain that pace.
“Morale is very low. GPs can’t do what they want to do, which is provide high quality, safe care.”
Pressures on Scotland’s healthcare system have been so severe, particularly in primary care, that, in December, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimated an extra 50 Scots a week were dying needlessly due to delays in treatment and poor quality of care.
Dr Morton said GPs are now expected to see between 30-40 patients a day, working 12 to 14-hour shifts. Duty doctors, who deal with urgent appointments once scheduled appointments have been handed out, have anecdotally told the RCGP they have had between 50 and 100 people wanting appointments in one day.
“The workload is more intense than I have ever known it,” said Dr Morton, “and I’ve been a GP for 30 years. Since 2013, the GP workforce in Scotland has been static. The specialist workforce has increased considerably, and yet our workload is going up.
“Our population has gone up, and I think crucially, our older population has gone up. The older population or those who are more likely to have multiple conditions have very complex health needs. The over-65 population in Scotland has gone up by 20 per cent since 2012, and virtually all that NHS work is done by GPs.”
The Scottish Government says there are “a record number of GPs working in Scotland”, but this doesn’t reflect the number of whole time equivalent (WTE) workers, according to Dr Morton.
“In 2017, the government produced a workforce planning report and it said we need another 800 GPs by 2027,” said Dr Morton “That was years ago. They've now changed that to 2028. Well, we've got to 2023 and we’ve got zero more GP WTEs.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said workforce planning has been “an abject failure”.
“These terrifying stats lay bare the abject failure of successive SNP health secretaries’ workforce planning, which is continuing to have a devastating impact on GP services across Scotland,” said Dr Gulhane.
“As a GP myself, I am experiencing first-hand, alongside my colleagues, the overwhelming demand from patients who are desperate to see us. This survey highlights how many practices are now on a cliff-edge – and if a third of them closed it would be utterly catastrophic.
“Humza Yousaf hasn’t given primary care anywhere near the resources it needs, or pulled out all the stops to recruit enough GPs.
“It is patients in our most deprived communities, and in rural and remote areas, who will suffer the most if surgeries close their doors.
“The buck stops with Humza Yousaf, who should be removed as health secretary immediately.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie said the RCGP’s figures show “the SNP has crashed primary care in Scotland”.
“That the future of so many GP surgeries is in doubt is simply outrageous,” said Baillie. “For months, frontline staff have demanded support from the government and in return Humza Yousaf has slashed budgets and withheld funds. It’s simple – this SNP Government does not value primary care. Enough is enough – the SNP need to listen to frontline workers and invest in primary care before lives are lost.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government provides a range of supports to GPs and their teams, including practice managers.
“Despite the pandemic, we have also recruited 3,220 whole time equivalent healthcare professionals into multi-disciplinary teams to provide support to GPs and make it easier for patients to see the right person at the right time – more than three whole time equivalents per average practice.
“In addition, the Scottish Government has actively promoted across Winter the 'Right Care, Right Place' campaign, providing clear public messages about how best to access the healthcare system, including self-care and utilising NHS Inform where appropriate.
“We know the difficulties staff are facing and want to repeat our thanks to all those working across all health and social care services this winter to make sure people receive the care they need.”